Municipalities violate the Constitution

Constitution NorwayThe Norwegian Lion. Ill: lovtidend.no

Municipalities violate the Constitution

Many municipalities impose stricter requirements on employee loyalty than the Constitution allows.

 

Municipal managers repeatedly break Constitutional rights when they rebuke employees who speak out publicly.

– The ombudsman has urged local authorities to clean up the internal regulations that restrict the right of employees to express their views. This work need to continue. Here all centrally placed executives and officers should reread the law, says Sissel Trygstad, Trygstad is Research Director in FAFO (the Trade Unions Research Organization).

Strict constraints

During a breakfast meeting in collaboration with the ‘Fritt Ord’ Foundation (Freedom of Expresion), FAFO researchers present a survey that shows that the state is sub par regarding the culture of expressing your personal views. Internal regulations often impose far greater restrictions on employees’ freedom of expression than the Constitution allows.

– In many cases, there are strong demands on employee loyalty. We have seen examples where employees have been reprimanded because they have underwritten public debates using their name and title. The general rule is that this is allowable as long as the employee does not speak on behalf of the municipality, Trygstad says.

Doctor reprimanded

FAFO has gone through 18 complaints that have been processed by the Civil Ombudsman in the years 2005-2016. Additionally, 2,000 municipal executives at all levels responded to a survey regarding attitudes towards culture and freedom of speech for public employees.

– One of the cases that the Ombudsman has dealt with, about a municipal doctor who had written an editorial about the priorities regarding the elderly in the municipality. The doctor got a rebuttal, but was acting within his rights under the Constitution, says Trygstad to NTB.

No to criticism

Half of the public leaders who participated in the FAFO survey believe it is not acceptable for public employees to express themselves critically about the municipality. 35 per cent thought it was okay if a public employee participated in a marker against the municipality, while 15 per cent was undecided.

Four out of ten managers agree that public employees should have a wide scope to comment on matters involving their own workplace.

When asked to participate in the public word exchange within their own field of expertise, the numbers are somewhat better. Still 11 percent of the leaders say that it is not acceptable and 22 percent are unsure.

Must change views

The FAFO researcher assumes that attitudes and regulations in violation of the Constitution are due to ignorance. But she also points to another possible explanation:

– I think that many managers find it unreasonable to get a negative review in the local newspaper that has to be handled in an otherwise busy day. This is hardly due to ill will, but I see a clear need for a change in culture. As a leader, you should more often think, ‘Yes, it’s good that there is a public debate about the services in my municipality.’ The leaders are after all there to manage our common tax monies, Trygstad points out.

 

© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today

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