Mediator fended off major strike

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UPDATED: National mediator Nils Dalseide managed to ward off a major strike on Sunday that would have disrupted operations at around 800 industrial firms in Norway from Monday morning. Dalseide, with the help of the Norwegian government, hammered through an agreement more than 12 hours after the strike deadline passed at midnight.

Eggum of Fellesforbundet, state mediator Dalseide, Norsk Industri's Stein Lier-Hansen

The mood was serious when state mediator Nils Dalseide (center) launched the marathon negotiations that resulted in a settlement on Sunday. At left, Jørn Eggum of the trade union federation Fellesforbundet and at right, Stein Lier-Hansen of the employers’ organization Norsk Industri. PHOTO: Fellesforbundet

The negotiations in overtime came after several days of marathon talks between Norway’s biggest industrial employers’ organization, Norsk Industri, and one of Norway’s largest trade union federations, Fellesforbundet. The agreement reached kept around 26,000 workers from being called out on strike.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that there won’t be any general payraises on a nationwide scale. That was expected, given hard times in many of Norway’s industrial sectors following the dive in oil prices. Workers and their unions have been more concerned about hanging on to their jobs than securing wage hikes, after months of layoffs at oil and offshore companies.

The strike threat rose instead mostly over pension issues and a call by the unions for concrete measure to prevent social dumping. They don’t want Norwegian workers to be replaced by foreign workers who may be willing to accept much lower rates of pay.

Workers will still see their paychecks rise around 2.4 percent, however, because of earlier-agreed measures due to take effect. Stein Lier-Hansen, head the employers’ group, said that means the settlement fell within the framework of both sides and was “loyal” towards the industries.

The breakthrough came after both sides had agreed to send a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg that resulted in the government agreeing to send a proposal to the Parliament proposing that furlough periods be extended from 30 to 52 weeks before a job is eliminated. That was important to the unions and enabled them to accept the lack of new pay raises, which was important to the employers.

In the end, both sides appeared genuinely pleased, with Lier-Hansen hailing the agreement for its “common sense.” Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie was also pleased as were members of the opposition Labour Party.

The two sides also ultimately agreed on measures to develop competence within the various companies involved, while the difficult issue of whether pensions should be part of labour union contracts was removed from this so-called frontfag phase of annual negotiations that sets standards for those among other unions and employers. Instead, a study will be carried out based on the unions’ and employers’ proposal for pension accounts to be established that will follow Norwegian workers and be under the auspices of the government.

Better job security prevailed over pensions
The vast amount of Norwegians’ pensions come from state coffers, rather like how the Social Security administration works in the US, with employers traditionally augmenting the amounts so that workers will end up with around 66 percent of their salaries upon retirement. That percentage is in danger of declining, however, since much more of the responsibility for pension savings is being put on the individual workers themselves. Pension reform laws have allowed employers’ to decrease their own pension liability.

While pensions remain an important issue, the increase in the furlough period to a full year was seen as more important, to retain jobs.

More details of the settlement were expected to emerge but it will be business as usual from Monday. The strike settlement also reduces the risk of more strikes as other labour and employer organizations meet for annual negotiations this spring. Berglund