Farmers bring their fight to Parliament

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Around 3,000 farmers marched through the streets of Oslo and then assembled in front of the Parliament on Tuesday, to once again demand more state money to boost their incomes. They want subsidies and protection worth another NOK 1.5 billion (USD 181 million), to boost their pay by more than 9 percent.

The powerful Norwegian farmers’ lobby had the added advantage of brilliantly clear and sunny skies over Oslo on Tuesday, as they marked through the city and demonstrated in front of Parliament. The sign claims that “Norway needs the farmer.” PHOTO: Bondelaget

The pay fight has been going on for weeks. Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale of the Progress Party claims the state already offered financial aid that would give the farmers bigger raises than the roughly 2.4 percent granted other workers in Norway this year. He claims the offer is in line with the intentions of the Parliament, which recently shot down some of his attempts to reform Norwegian agriculture, and make it more efficient, but supported other changes.

Dale has also insisted on moderation, however, and claims 9 percent pay raises are not moderate. The farmers’ lobbying groups, led by Norges Bondelag, defend their demands on the grounds they collectively earn less than other working groups and therefore deserve more subsidy and protection from competition to narrow the alleged pay gap. The farmers got a boost this week when the trade union confederaton LO supported their pay demand. Jan-Egil Pedersen of LO told newspaper Klassekampen that the farmers must get bigger raises “every year” since they currently are relatively low-paid compared to other groups.

The farmers and their supporters also argue that while farm production is up in Norway, small farms remain vulnerable. The state has enforced policies of consolidation and centralization to improve economies of scale in Norway’s far-flung farming districts, while others want more state support for family-run agricultural property.

News bureau NTB reported that the farmers also have attracted support from some restaurant chefs, including those at Gamle Raadhus and Vaaghals in Oslo. They claim they need small farmers to produce special, locally grown food. Others scoff that with food production higher than ever in Norway, and a proliferation of local specialty products, there’s little danger the restaurants won’t find suppliers.

The huge state food fight is now bound to play out in Parliament, where the small Christian Democrats and Liberal Parties are likely to get a chance to flex their muscles. They have an agreement to support the minority government coalition but can make demands. Both are likely to placate the farmers in the hopes of winning votes in the upcoming national election.

“The state’s offer is good in some areas, but not in others,” Line Henriette Hjemdal of the Christian Democrats told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. “I’m ready to see whether we can get a majority and straighten this up where the state’s offer doesn’t hit the nail on the head.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund