– The tears are rolling here now. This is the best news in many, many years, says Rune Sundmoen to FriFagbevegelse.
He became an innocent victim when the Danish insurance company Alpha Insurance went bankrupt in 2018.
Sundmoen and several hundred other occupationally injured Norwegians had a total of millions in claims with the insurance company.
They didn’t get a single kroner because of a loophole in Norwegian legislation. Now more people can breathe a sigh of relief after a year-long battle to get the money they are entitled to.
The government proposes in the state budget for 2024 that NOK 90 million be allocated to cover or advance the claims Norwegian employees have against the bankruptcy estate.
– Will help something incredible
In Sundmoen’s case, the payment is a legitimate claim of around NOK 2.5 million.
Ever since he was injured in the accident at work in 2010 and became 100 percent disabled, the father of the family has struggled to manage his finances.
– We increased the loan to save ourselves from small situations. We thought the money was coming, Sundmoen told the podcast Rørsla earlier this year, where he told his story.
On the phone from his home in Østerdalen, Sundmoen says that he is tight-lipped and outgoing.
– This is going to change so much.
Sundmonen’s fight to get occupational injury compensation has lasted for over 13 years.
– It is absolutely magnificent. This will help something incredible, he says and says that he has struggled with anxiety and a lot of worry linked to the situation he has been in.
Vedum apologizes for the wait
– What do you want to say to the victims who have been sitting and waiting?
– We take responsibility. Now it is our turn and we are concerned with the strength of having a strong community. These are people who were completely innocently framed and now the community is standing up. We share the bill with everyone in Norway, says Slagsvold Vedum.
He emphasizes that the case has been tough for individuals to deal with.
– It is regrettable that nothing has happened many years ago. It takes a long time to get legislative changes in place. But now we are doing this before the legislative work is in place, simply because they don’t have to wait any longer.
The government is now working on drafting a change in the law to close the gap in the legislation and prevent similar cases from happening again.
Covers up to now 155 people
At the time of the bankruptcy, the insurance company had received 319 claims from occupationally injured Norwegians with claims for a total of NOK 200 million.
FriFagbevgelse has previously written that 300 Norwegians are waiting for money after the bankruptcy. Over the years, not all 300 claims have been successful. This summer, 220 people had claims on the estate, the housing board stated E24.
The government now states that 155 claims have been submitted from Norwegian workers. Of those, 90 claims have been approved and are ready for payment.
The total number of claims includes a payment of NOK 82.3 million. The 90 claims that have already been approved and are ready for payment amount to NOK 42.8 million.
Victory for LO
Over several years, LO has demanded that the state pay for the compensation of those affected by the Alpha bankruptcy.
When the Labor Party and the Center Party were in opposition, the parties demanded that the state must take responsibility.
The disappointment was therefore great when no money had been set aside in the revised national budget that the government presented in May.
The information from the government that the money will now come in the state budget for 2024 pleases the LO secretary:
– We are very happy today that the government is taking responsibility, says LO secretary Trude Tinnlund.
– There are innocent people who have ended up between two chairs and have suffered for a long time now. We are very happy that they can now have a safer future.
Shall treat equally
Several Norwegian companies had taken out occupational injury insurance for their employees in Alpha Insurance, either via the Norwegian branch or directly in the Danish parent company.
For the first group who had taken out insurance through a Norwegian branch, the guarantee scheme for payment of claims is advanced when they have been approved by the estate.
For the last group, who had linked their insurance directly to the company without going through a Norwegian branch, neither the Norwegian nor the Danish guarantee scheme covers the claims of the occupationally injured Norwegians.
This is where the hole in the Norwegian legislation lies, because companies without a Norwegian branch are allowed to operate without the obligation to enroll in the guarantee scheme.
These are therefore only entitled to payment from the bankruptcy estate. It can take many years before the estate is settled and they possibly get their claims covered if there is money to be had.
Therefore, the government has proposed that the NOK 90 million should cover or advance the claims the Norwegian employees have against the bankruptcy estate, i.e. treat the two groups equally.
– The main point is that they are treated equally with other employees whose employer has had insurance in Norwegian companies, says Labor Minister Marte Mjøs Persen (Ap) to FriFagbevegelse.
She expresses that she is very happy that a solution has been found.
– After all, we have a law on occupational injury insurance in Norway which means that all employees must be insured against occupational injuries. It is then important that you as an employee feel confident that, once the accident is over, you will get what you are entitled to.
May apply to several
Injured persons can register their claims several years after the accident occurred, and pending claims can be approved in future. It is therefore not certain that we will see a final sum on the Alpha case now, explains LO secretary Trude Tinnlund.
– Occupational injury cases are long-tailed cases. Not everything is settled.
Together with the lawyers in LO, Tinnlund has followed the Alpha case closely.
She has specified that the arrangements in the budget should allow for payments to be made over time.
Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum says that the government is working to have an overview of how many people the payment applies to.
– Now we can look at the numbers. We do not deal with individual cases, but this is about the principle and safety. Some will disagree or agree with the settlement, but they will be treated as if they had insurance in a Norwegian company, says Vedum.
Will change the law
In addition to the victims receiving the compensation they are entitled to, it has been important for LO to ensure that the gap in the legislation is closed.
The government has worked to close the gap and has had proposals out for consultation. The hearing deadline was 30 May.
At the latest last week, Tinnlund and LO lawyer Hilde Anghus were in a meeting at the Storting, but did not then receive signals about when the legislative change will come.
– The change in the law is the long-term solution. It takes time to put such legislation in place, emphasizes Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum and points out that the work is now with the Ministry of Justice.
In an earlier note from the Norwegian Financial Supervisory Authority, it appears that around 240 insurance companies that are outside the Norwegian guarantee scheme operate in Norway.
According to LO lawyer Anghus, more and more such companies are offering insurance.
– We know that these can go bankrupt. This is a ticking time bomb, Anghus said earlier this year.
– The aim of the long-term legislative work is to avoid something similar happening later if other insurance companies go bankrupt, comments Slagsvold Vedum.
This is what the Alpha case is about
- All employers are required to take out occupational injury insurance for their employees. They can sign agreements with foreign insurance companies.
- In those cases where this does not happen, Norwegian employees are still covered through the Occupational Injury Insurance Association.
- All foreign insurance companies that have branches in Norway must be part of the Norwegian guarantee scheme. Through the scheme, the employees are protected if the company goes bankrupt.
- But – companies that sell insurance cross-border from another EEA country without a Norwegian branch are not obliged to participate in the guarantee scheme.
- Alpha Insurance was such a company, and this is where the gap in Norwegian legislation arises.
- 319 people had claims against Alpha Insurance when it went bankrupt in May 2018. Because of the bankruptcy, they were not paid the compensation they are entitled to under the Occupational Injury Insurance Act.
- The government has now stepped in to cover the claims of the victims in the Alpha case.
- So far, 155 claims have been lodged from Norwegian employees. The total number of claims includes a payment of over NOK 80 million.
- LO has demanded that the gap in the legislation must be closed. The case was out for hearing with a deadline of 30 May.