18,000 workers head out on strike

Mediation broke down Thursday afternoon between municipal employers and unions representing their workers, meaning that many schools and day care centers will shut down around Norway from Friday. The strikers were joined later by nearly 1,000 hospital workers even though state officials came to terms with unions earlier in the day. Negotiations in Oslo were continuing.

Norway’s state mediator had let a major public sector strike deadline pass at midnight Wednesday, allowing bargaining to go on through the night. While negotiators at the state level reached agreement, those at the local government level did not.

Around 30,000 public sector workers had been poised to walk off the job this week, in a bid to boost pay for low-income sectors and reduce a pay gap that persists between female- and male-dominated working groups.

After 11 hours of overtime talks, both sides in the state dispute announced a proposed settlement. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that it involves an average pay raise of 3.3 percent plus extra amounts valued at more than NOK 300 million and earmarked for professions dominated by women.

That wasn’t good enough for some health care workers, though, meaning that about 950 nurses, physiotherapists and aides were also being called out on strike from Friday in Tromsø, Bodø, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Fredrikstad and Ullensaker. 

Mediator Kari Gjesteby continued to work with unions and municipal employers, but all efforts failed and a strike was set to begin from early Friday morning except in Oslo, where talks continued. Unions for workers elsewhere, from Kristiansand to Tromsø, reportedly wouldn’t accept a raise that was limited to 3.3 percent. (See NRK’s list of affected schools and services here – external link, in Norwegian, but helpful).

 Officials on both sides earlier had decided that schools and day care centers, run by municipalities, would remain open through Thursday, even if a strike was called. That allowed many students to complete end-of-term exams scheduled for Thursday and relieved parents of having to leave work to collect small children from publicly supported day care centers. The strike will also affect many other services provided by local governments, such as staffing at nursing homes.

Negotiations were described as difficult and complex. Public sector employees have appeared willing to strike in an effort to finally narrow ongoing pay differences between men and women, while some labour market experts argued vigorously against a strike.

They claim it will result in even higher cost levels in Norway, at a time when the rest of Europe is cutting pay to public sector workers and costs in general. That can put already-high-priced Norway at a competitive disadvantage.

Strikes within the transport and cleaning (renhold) sectors continued on Thursday, meanwhile, resulting in shortages on retailers’ shelves and another boom in Norwegians heading to Sweden to shop. Hospitals and pharmacies were winning dispensation from the strike, with deliveries allowed to eliminate threats to life and health.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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