Oslo stays out of big municipal strike

UPDATED: Norway has proven itself once again to be “annerledeslandet:” Europe’s “different country,” often going its own way. At a time when most European countries are cutting public sector salaries, laying off workers and slashing budgets, several Norwegian unions turned down a pay offer that was higher than the inflation rate and launched the country’s biggest strike in decades.

Norway was dubbed annerledeslandet when it turned down membership in the European Union in 1994, for the second time. The nickname has cropped up when Norwegians buck major trends, or otherwise assert themselves with the backing of a strong. oil-fueled economy.

That’s mostly what allowed around 17,000 municipal employees and nearly 1,000 state health care workers to walk off the job on Friday, after several of Norway’s most powerful unions rejected offers of pay hikes of up to 3.3 percent plus extra funds to help close the pay gap between men and women. 

An even bigger strike was averted when state employees accepted a deal offering much the same terms. Most municipal workers in Norway didn’t think it was enough, except in Oslo, where negotiations resulted in a settlement on Friday, well past the initial strike deadline at midnight on Wednesday.

Union leaders and the workers they represent claimed that their biggest issue was pay equality. Women continue to dominate many professions that are relatively low-paid, from teaching to health care, and the unions want a clear and lasting boost in average salaries.

Employers insisted they offered that, through the extra funds in a so-called “equality pot,” and accused the union leaders of striking because they faced losing control over how the extra funds would be distributed. The employers wanted the money to be distributed at the local level, because of differences in the economies of Norwegian municipalities, while union leaders wanted to control distribution themselves.

It all resulted in what some labour experts contend is the most widespread strike to hit Norway for around 30 years. It has closed many schools and day care centers, although some reportedly were remaining open on Friday, leading to charges akin to crossing a picket line. Staffing was reduced at nursing homes and hospitals and many local government services were disrupted.

Oslo negotiates separately from other municipalities in Norway, and talks continued on Friday, finally resulting in a settlement by midday. Both sides agreed on pay issues and decided they couldn’t defend a strike, while other cities from Kristiansand in the south to Bodø and Tromsø in the north were affected.

Union leaders threatened that the strike would spread early next week, if no progress was made in new negotiations.

A strike among cleaning personnel around Norway was settled late Thursday, however, with “satisfactory” pay raises, while a strike in the transport sector continued. It was leading to some shortages, for example at the state wine and liquor retailer Vinmonopolet, as it disrupted deliveries around the country.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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