Conflicts spread with hotel strike

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UPDATED: Tempers rose in line with the warm temperatures outdoors during the weekend, as the numbers of striking workers at Norwegian hotels expanded along with their accusations of alleged strike-busting. While tourism industry officials fretted over the strike’s effect on Norway’s reputation as a travel destination, other strikes also loom in the weeks ahead.

Striking hotel workers aren't backing down from their demands for negotiations at the local level and for higher pay for their lowest-paid colleagues. PHOTO:

Striking hotel workers aren’t backing down from their demands for negotiations at the local level and for higher pay for their lowest-paid colleagues. PHOTO:

The strike against hotels and restaurants entered its third week on Monday with more than 7,300 workers now pulled off their jobs. In Bergen, the large Radisson Blu Hotel Norge was forced to close, when nearly all its workers joined the strike. That in turn forced its guests to check out Monday morning, with few other hotel rooms available in town. At least one guest told state broadcaster NRK that he found an AirBnB where he would stay for the rest of his week in Bergen.

The mood on picket lines around the country also took a turn for the worse, with strikers rallying outside growing numbers of hotels and accusing their owners of trying to bust the strike by replacing them with non-union personnel. The hotel owners, meanwhile, accused the strikers of illegal boycotts.

In Oslo, a family with small children got caught in a noisy conflict outside the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel, which has remained open despite reduced staffing. Police were called to the scene after tempers flared among the strikers, hotel security guards and guests trying to enter the hotel.

The family claimed they were surrounded by strikers and prevented from entering the hotel, while their children started crying and the adults yelled at one another. “It was entirely unacceptable behaviour,” hotel director Tarje Hellebust told news bureau NTB. “You can use words and still show respect. It’s fine to disagree, but not in this manner.”

Officials of the trade union federation Fellesforbundet deny they kept people out of the hotel. “That’s a ridiculous argument,” said Tore Skjelstadaune of the labour group’s Oslo chapter. “We didn’t keep anyone out of the hotel, it was just a bit crowded at the entrance.”

Other guests also reacted badly, however, to the scene at the entrance and felt they were prevented from leaving the hotel. Some were offered an alternative exit, through a back door at the hotel, to avoid the strikers outside.

At the generally peaceful Fefor Høifjellshotell in the mountains above Vinstra, another conflict broke out when strikers were fended off by hotel security guards as they accused hotel management of strike-busting. That was the theme of yet more conflicts at hotels at the North Cape and elsewhere as the strike spread over the weekend to involve more than 7,000 workers and hundreds of hotels and restaurants in all counties.

“This strike is terribly negative for Norway’s reputation,” Vibeke Raddum, European boss for the large Asian tour operator Tumlare, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. “It’s typical that the strike broke out right during the run-up to Norway’s tourist season. It’s creating uncertainty and unease in addition to considerable costs.”

She said many hotels are still managing to remain open, “but we have some guests who aren’t being accommodated in the hotels they had paid for. We have to make a lot of changes and the guests have a right to compensation. For those of us who are selling Norway abroad, this is very bad.”

The hotels are reporting a fall-off in reservations because of the strike, which remained deadlocked on Monday. There had been no formal contact between the union federation and the employers’ organization NHO Reiseliv, as of Sunday night.

“We are solution-oriented, and we’re not striking for the sake of striking,” Vidar Grønli of Fellesforbundet told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. “We are open to go into dialogue.” NHO officials responded that it was a “difficult situation” and “tough for many, but given the situation when we didn’t succeed in mediation, there’s full understanding among our members (the hotel and restaurant owners) that we can’t concede when Felleforbundet won’t either.” Neither side wanted to make the first move towards resuming negotiations over demands for local negotiations in addition to those at the national level and for higher pay for the the lowest-paid workers.

More, and bigger, strikes loom
Meanwhile a string of new strikes looms. Talks also broke down late last week between NHO Reiseliv and Parat, the union federation representing many airline and airport workers. That means airline passengers flying out of Oslo and Bergen may not receive any food on board their flights because workers at airline meal producer Gate Gourmet may strike from May 20.

While bus drivers settled their looming conflict last week, cleaning crews in public and private offices and other buildings may also walk off the job this week, if their union federation (Norsk Arbeidsmandsforbund) fails to come to terms with NHO Service. Workers at state broadcaster NRK were also threatening to strike from Friday, claiming that their pay lags behind that of other journalists in Norway. They want a major raise despite all the job turmoil at present because of the media crisis.

The biggest strike threat looms at the end of the month, when thousands of state workers may walk off the job. Only one of the labour federations negotiating with the state, Akademikerne, reached agreement on a new contract for its highly educated members including doctors, lawyers and civil engineers last week, while Unio, YS and LO broke off talks. They’ve headed into mediation, with a strike deadline set for May 26.

The leaders of the large labour organizations claim it will be difficult to avoid a strike, citing “provocation” by the government minister in charge of administration, Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservative Party. While he hails “modernization” and “efficiency” in pay and pension benefits, the union leaders claim they’re being eroded. With principles at stake, mediation faced a rough road ahead as state mediator tries to ward off a strike by midnight on May 25. Berglund