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Extending Working Life: The tripartite cooperation and the role of the Centre for Senior Policy


The Peer Review focused on Norway’s experience with the Centre for Senior Policy (CSP), a tripartite organisation which aims to catalyse efforts to implement ‘active ageing’ policies at various levels and to raise awareness of the critical contribution of older workers in the labour market.

The Ministry for Labour in Norway hosted a Peer Review in Oslo that brought together ministry officials, social partners and independent experts from twelve countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey), as well as representatives from the host country, and from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission.

The host country presented its Centre for Senior Policy (CSP), an organisation which aims to raise awareness of the importance of addressing demographic change and the critical contribution of older workers in the labour market. In order to do this, it carries out research, gathers and disseminates good practice and works directly with employers and employees themselves to develop active ageing strategies in the workplace. CSP builds on a joint recognition of the importance of active ageing by the social partners and government agencies and is run on a tripartite basis. Labour market participation among older workers (and more generally) in Norway is among the highest in Europe at 69% (EU average was 46% in 2010) and the average age of retirement has, over recent years, increased to 63.5 (2010/2011). Although other factors clearly also play an important role (a strong economy and resulting high labour demand, a pension system which increasingly seeks to reward delayed exit and other factors), all stakeholders in Norway consider that CSP has played a significant role in raising awareness and working with social partners at the local and enterprise level to support a lifecycle approach to managing work ability, as well as dispelling many of the myths which exist around the productivity, skills and absence levels (to give just a few examples) among older workers.

The main conclusions of the discussions are summarised under the following headings:

Awareness raising and building trust is the key to engaging social partners with the issue of demographic change: One of the most important success factors for the work of CSP is its strong emphasis on awareness raising and gathering and disseminating a good evidence base to dispel persistent myths about older workers. CSP is able to fund research and produce material that demonstrates, for example, that older workers are not more likely to be absent from work due to illness, have a strong potential for learning, are often more reliable and committed and are able to use their experience to make well informed decisions / provide advice and leadership in the workplace. There is also strong investment in media campaigns to improve the imagery and therefore societal perceptions around older workers. Furthermore, regular surveys of employer attitudes towards older workers not only help to stimulate the debate, but can also be useful in tracking progress resulting from awareness raising and other activities.

Trust is key to successful joint working between social partners. Such trust takes time to establish and can be fragile, so it is important - in countries where such trust is lacking to start with small, manageable activities and to show patience. Regular joint working, for example through round tables, or with the support of government funding and joint project working can help to facilitate such gradual processes. Ongoing involvement in policy making at the tripartite level is another important component to building successful working relationships and ensuring buy-in to an overarching active ageing strategy.

It was acknowledged that one of the key success factors of CSP is the long history of successful tripartite (and bi-partite) dialogue between employers and trade unions in Norway. It clearly takes time and requires particular structures and parameters, including high organisation rates, to achieve this level of positive co-operation.

Many European countries actually still lack of a strong and well-functioning tradition of tripartite cooperation. In such context, a possible alternative would be to generate buy-in from social partners through other structures than a strong centralised tripartite dialogue. For example, looser networks between key labour market stakeholders or indeed existing tripartite socio-economic committees can also provide a starting point for co-operation on the issue of demographic change.

There was agreement among participants at the Peer Review that it is important to start to work on the issue of demographic change as early as possible.

Experience has shown that themes such as health and safety and training, for example, are often areas of common interest for social partners. In countries where the demographic profile is already contracting significantly, there is often common ground and awareness of the need to begin work on this issue. In addition, even in those countries where ageing is not yet a hot topic (as strong pressure from skill or labour shortages are still not felt) discussions could already begin on some specific components of an active ageing approach. Indeed, some aspects of an active ageing approach can be considered as very relevant irrespective of the demographic environment: elements of work ability are for instance also linked with the general need to increase productivity.

Where such work has already begun, stakeholders should not be deflected from this pathway by temporary challenges such the economic downturn.

Remaining policy obstacles to extending working lives must be addressed: As recent evidence demonstrates (see for example the 2012 Review of Employment Policies to Encourage Active Ageing published by the European Employment Observatory), most European countries have already taken significant steps to eliminate disincentives to extending working lives and implementing policies to support active ageing so called carrot and stick approaches. On one side, this has included reviewing and increasing statutory retirement ages, foreclosing avenues to early retirement and increasing pension penalties for those leaving the labour market early. One the other side, governments have sought to increase incentives to stay on at work by providing for additional accrual of pension benefits for working longer and in some cases allowing the combination of drawing a pension with income from work. Somewhat less widespread have been labour market policy initiatives to encourage training around the lifecycle and for older workers in particular; measures to promote and invest in safe and healthy working conditions and subsidies to recruit older workers.

However, despite the implementation of pension reforms, some disincentives still persist (or financial incentives to stay on at work are not strong enough). Although the employment rate of older workers remained relatively stable during the economic crisis, situations of restructuring still lead many social partner organisations to opt for early retirement measures as a socially responsible way of reducing the workforce. Another important issue in many European countries is the growing use of disability pension and benefit systems to leave the labour market (early). In Norway, for example, a worker aged 17 can expect to spend around 4.8 years on a disability pension during their working life. Disability pensions have thus often replaced early retirement schemes, or indeed the use of unemployment benefit systems to allow for early exit from the labour market. A number of countries have sought to address this by tightening access to disability benefits and emphasising the activating part of such schemes.

Another obstacle to the retention and recruitment of older workers discussed at the Peer Review is the influence of seniority based pay systems which sometimes serve to price older workers out of the market.

Prevention is better than cure and a lifecycle approach is critical to the success of prevention measures: Available data show that although older workers are less likely to lose their jobs, once unemployed, they find it significantly harder to re-enter the labour market. Preventative measures are therefore the key to successful active ageing strategies. Participants at the Peer Review agreed that such measures should not be focussed only or indeed primarily on older workers, but should take a lifecycle approach to prevent issues relating to ill health or skills obsolence in later life. An ongoing assessment of skills, relevant training provision (to support employability as well as adaptability in the workplace context), health and safety as well as health promotion measures and access to flexible working - particularly for older carers were considered to be important parts of a holistic approach to active age management at company level. Support for functional flexibility and workplace adaptation also plays an important role for individuals unable to continue in the same job up to retirement. One success factor in the development of such approaches was considered to be high level management and line manager buy-in. It was therefore suggested that active age management should be part of management training programmes. Additionally, support for the development of such holistic age management strategies could be provided to SMEs who often have less capacity internally to plan and deliver such approaches.

Greater attention needs to be paid to mid-term career reviews and support for job to job mobility: Participants at the Peer Review stressed that mid-term career reviews and greater flexibility and support for job to job mobility also had an important role to play in extending working lives. This was not only considered important for individuals in physically or psychologically demanding jobs and was seen too often be impeded by a lack of portability of pension rights (between sectors or occupations) and strong sectoral, seniority based pay structures.

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