Efforts underway to avert major strike

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Around 800 Norwegian companies can be hit by a strike later this week, after talks and initial mediation broke down between the labour organization Fellesforbundet and the industrial employers’ organization Norsk Industri. A strike deadline has been set for midnight Saturday, as four days of marathon mediation begins.

The breakdown in talks and mediation phase were expected, since the two sides were far apart on such issues as making pensions part of wage and benefits settlements. The unions also want more concrete measures against so-called social dumping, which involves foreign workers coming to Norway and being paid far less than organized Norwegian workers.

Newspaper Aftenposten was speculating that the compulsory mediation now underway may well extend into overtime this weekend. State mediator Nils Dalseide has many issues to address, but told Aftenposten that can make it easier to create compromises.

He said himself that he didn’t think the management and employees at the 800 companies where workers can be called off the job will have an answer by midnight Saturday. He was prepared to work through the night, or longer.

“Now we’re looking at a lot of hard work in the days ahead,” Dalseide told Aftenposten.

If no settlement can be reached, around 26,000 workers who are members of unions tied to Fellesforbundet can be called off the job. The vast majority of employees and their companies targeted are in the West Coast counties of Hordaland, Rogaland and Møre og Romsdal, areas also hit hardest by cutbacks in the oil and offshore industries. Few have expected a strike, because of the fear of more job losses, and there has been division within the labour movement. Pensions, however, have emerged as such a serious issue for workers following years of government pension reform and businesses’ efforts to cut pension costs, that the labour leaders think they’re worth fighting for.

Companies targeted range from Aker Subsea in Lier, where 267 workers can be taken out on strike, to small companies like Nordic Outdoor in Arendal, where just two workers can be called out.

Dalseide remained optimistic. “We have a good dialogue with many processes underway,” he told news bureau NTB on Wednesday. “I think this will go well.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund