Norway has been a pioneer in the field of social welfare and is often called a welfare state. Accident insurance for factory workers was introduced in 1895, unemployment insurance in 1906, compulsory health insurance in 1909, and accident insurance for fishermen in 1908 and for seamen in 1911. In the 1930s, further social welfare schemes were introduced: an oldage pension scheme; aid for the blind and crippled; and unemployment insurance for all workers except fishermen, whalers, sealers, civil servants, domestic servants, self-employed persons, salesmen, and agents. In the postwar period, health insurance became compulsory for all employees and available to self-employed persons; coverage includes dependents, with medical treatment including hospital and other benefits. Sickness benefits, family allowances during hospitalization, and grants for funeral expenses are paid. Costs of this scheme are met by deductions from wages and contributions by employers and by state and local authorities. Public assistance, available in Norway since 1845, supplements the foregoing programs. Social welfare has long included maternity benefits with free prenatal clinics.
The National Insurance Act, which came into effect in 1967, provides old-age pensions, rehabilitation allowances, disability pensions, widow and widower pensions, and survivor benefits to children. These separate programs were combined into the National Insurance Scheme in 1971. Membership is obligatory for all residents of Norway, including noncitizens, and for Norwegian foreign-service employees. Pensions begin at the age of 67. Benefits are graded according to the individual's previous income and years of employment. This program is funded by a7.8% contribution from employees, and a 14.1% contribution by employers. The government funds any deficit.
Workers' compensation covers both accidents and occupational diseases. Compensation is paid to a widow until she remarries, and to children up to the age of 18 (or for life if they are unemployable). Dependent parents and grandparents also are eligible for life annuities. Family allowance coverage, in force since 1946, is provided for children under the age of 16.
The law mandates equal wages for equal work by men and women, although economic discrimination persists. An Equal Rights Ombudsman addresses complaints of sexual discrimination. A provision protecting against sexual harassment is outlined in the Working Environment Act. A shortage of day-care facilities has hampered the entry of women as full-time wage earners. Violence against women persists but is seriously investigated and prosecuted by authorities. Victims assistance programs and battered women's shelters are available.
Provisions exist to protect the rights and cultural heritage of minority peoples. The Sami (Lapps) located in the northeast are entitled to schooling in their local language, and also receive radio and television broadcast subtitled in Sami. The Sami also have a constituent assembly that acts as a consultative body on issues that affect them.
Human rights are fully respected and protected in Norway.