No bus strike but more hotels hit

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Negotiators for unions representing bus drivers and the organization representing their employers managed to avert a major strike on Thursday, after eight hours of overtime talks. There’s still no sign of settlement in the nationwide strike by hotel and restaurant workers, though, and it’s set to spread even more next week.

Bus fares may increase for senior citizens in the Oslo area, if Ruter follows the local cinema operator in doing away with discounts for retirees. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

Bus traffic kept rolling in southern and central Norway on Thursday, after negotiators averted a strike eight hours into overtime. Norway’s major hotel and restaurant strike, however, continued to drag on. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

A bus strike would have disrupted travel plans for many people just as Norway was entering its annual Kristi himmelfartsdag (Ascension Day) holiday weekend. Since Thursday is a national holiday, many Norwegians take a vacation day on Friday as well, to give themselves a four-day holiday weekend that traditionally launches the summer season.

The Norwegian transport workers’ federations (Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund / Yrkestrafikkforbundet /Fagforbundet) came to terms, however, in an agreement with employers’ organization NHO Transport that gives the bus drivers both a pay raise and regular toilet breaks. That was enough to satisfy around 1,500 bus drivers on regularly scheduled commuter and airport routes in Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen and longer-distance routes in central and southern Norway. Employers involved included Ruter in the Oslo area, Trønderbilene, Nettbuss, Tide, Boreal travel AS and Unibuss.

“I’m glad we managed to avoid a strike, with a decent result for employees in the bus branch,” said Stein Guldbrandsen, who led negotiations for union federation Fagforbundet. Bus drivers will now receive another NOK 4 per hour, bringing their average annual pay up to 97 percent of that for an industrial worker.

Guldbrandsen seemed most pleased by the agreement to re-organize scheduled routes so that drivers can have regular breaks for their so-called “personal needs.” “We’ve had examples where drivers have to sit for five to six hours before they get a chance to go to the toilet,” Guldbrandsen told the federation’s website, fagforbundet.no. “That’s unnecessary, inhumane and can affect safety.”

Hotel strike drags on, and set to expand
There’s been no progress, meanwhile, in the strike that has closed or curtailed operations at hundreds of hotels and restaurants around Norway. As it dragged towards the end of its second week, the labour federation representing hotel and restaurant workers (Fellesforbundet) announced it would spread again.

In addition to the 1,000 workers at around 100 more hotels due to walk off the job on Saturday, 374 more will join them from Monday. They will include 105 workers at the Radisson Blu Hotel Norge in Bergen, which had been shielded from the strike since its workers expect to lose their jobs when the hotel closes for total renovation later this year. The federation claimed the workers themselves, however, wanted to join the strike.

The expansion will bring the number of strikers up to more than 7,000 by early next week. On Wednesday night, the labour federation announced that yet  another 269 members of the unions will be called out on strike as of 8am next Friday, the 13th of May.

Norway’s largest trade union confederation, LO, was also threatening a sympathy strike following charges of strike busting at some Clarion and Scandic Hotels, both in Oslo and at the North Cape, where the annual summer tourist season is getting underway. Hotel directors involved firmly denied any strike-busting efforts.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund