The reform of the Norwegian pension system in the early 2000s sparked off a need to reform occupational pensions. In the private sector, this was done in negotiations in 2008. In the public sector, a similar attempt in 2009 failed, and the process was only finalized in 2018. We aim to show how discourse, and the way the issues were framed through narratives and metaphors, affected the reform processes in 2008/2009. We outline the significance of different constellation of actors in the two sectors, and show how this affected the ability to achieve common understandings (coordinative discourse) and popular support (communicative discourse). We then focus in particular on one popular metaphor, namely the toiler, and show how toilers emerged in different guises in both the private and public sector negotiations. A clear notion of what the toiler needed was constructed during the private-sector negotiations. When negotiations moved to the public sector, and a different type of toiler entered the picture, key reform architects were unable to adjust. The metaphor of the toiler ended up as a ‘cognitive lock’ that hampered rather than promoted reform in the public sector.
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