Hotel strike still upsetting visitors

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As a nationwide strike by hotel and restaurant workers headed into its fifth day on Thursday, visitors planning to travel to Norway for some major events this weekend were both uncertain and upset. In the historic mining town of Røros, which draws thousands of visitors every year, officials were opting for some creative solutions.

The historic church that towers over Norway's preserved mining town of Røros is due to be the setting for a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday. Organizers claim the show will go on, despite a strike by hotel and restaurant workers. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

The historic church that towers over Norway’s preserved mining town of Røros is due to be the setting for a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday. Organizers claim the show will go on, despite a strike by hotel and restaurant workers. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

They have perhaps been among the most anxious this week. After two years of planning, they’re ready to welcome the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to Røros this weekend. The world-famous orchestra is due to perform a concert inside Røros’ historic old wooden church known as Bergstadens Ziir on Sunday, with the event set to be aired internationally.

Then, last weekend, came news that hotel and restaurant workers were going on strike, and later that the strike would spread from Saturday. Determined that the show will go on, local officials and civic boosters sprang into action.

“We contacted hotels in Sweden,” Bjørn Nessjø, leader of the concert and TV production, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Several hotels are located just over the border from Røros in areas best known as ski resorts in the winter.

“We have also spoken with (state railway) NSB about getting them to send sleeper carriages up here,” Nessjø said. “In addition, many people have called and offered us use of their hytter (holiday cabins).”

‘Not an event we can postpone’
Conversations with local hotels themselves have since calmed the nerves of concert organizers. “We concluded that they’ll manage to take care of our guests in a relatively good manner, so that it won’t adversely affect either the concert or the public,” Nessjø told NRK. He thinks the entire local community realizes how important the Berlin Philharmonic concert is for the entire area.

“This is not an event we can postpone,” he stressed, noting that it’s part of the orchestra’s annual concerts held at various locations around Europe on the May 1 Labour Day holiday. The church itself can seat 1,600 people, while the live broadcast to such countries as Germany, China and Japan is expected to reach 30 million viewers around the world, giving the small preserved mining town on a windswept plateau major international exposure.

A-ha and Adele fans affected, too
In Oslo, meanwhile, some other major concerts featuring Norwegian band a-ha on Saturday, and both British singers Adele and Bryan Ferry on Sunday have attracted thousands of music lovers, also from out of town. Many were left wondering whether their hotel reservations would be honoured, and it was difficult to get any firm answers. While the hotels keep hoping for a settlement, the unions were still vowing on Thursday to pull another 2,447 members at an additional 209 hotels and restaurants out on strike from Saturday morning, in addition to the nearly 3,500 already called off the job.

“We’re on strike because the employers say ‘no’ to a system with local negotiations on wages,” the union federation representing the workers, Fellesforbundet, stated on its website in English. “Local negotiations (are) the most common way in Norway for workers to have a wage (that) reflects the profits of the company we work in. The employers have also rejected our demand for higher wages for our lowest-paid members. The employers want to keep wages low in the sector, that is our impression of the employers’ position. This is unacceptable to us.”

No talks scheduled as of Thursday morning
The organization representing the hotel and restaurant owners, NHO Reiseliv, counters that it’s important to preserve jobs in the hospitality sector by making sure that revenues exceed costs. “In a difficult time with many oil industry-related layoffs, it’s more important than ever that we not take on costs that we can’t sustain,” claims Kristin Krohn Devold, director of NHO Reiseliv. Devold, a former defense minister for Norway’s Conservative Party, is now determined to defend the balance statements of her organization’s members, and claimed that hotel leaders are making a “fantastic contribution” to efforts to keep as many hotels open as possible, albeit with reduced service.

Asked why NHO Reiseliv opposes local negotiations, Devold claimed many local hotels can’t afford two rounds of collective bargaining, both at the national and local level. “That could quickly result in wage development that the branch collectively can’t bear,” she said.

No new talks between Fellesforbundet and NHO Reiseliv were scheduled as of Thursday morning, meaning that nearly 6,000 workers were likely to be out on picket lines over the weekend.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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