Strike looms over pension reform

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Thousands of state and municipal workers were threatening to go out on strike in Norway’s biggest cities from early Wednesday because they’re unhappy over proposed changes in their pension programs. A strike would affect a wide range of public services and could strand cruise passengers.

Most Norwegian workers in the private sector have had to swallow major changes in their own pension programs, most of which have involved a potential reduction in benefits. Pensions promising a fixed percentage of salary, companies have argued, have simply become too expensive.

Public sector workers have so far managed to hang on to most of their potential pension benefits, but state officials also have been pushing for reforms that could lower pension costs for taxpayers. Included are proposals to alter the number of years needed to qualify for full pension benefits, from 30 to 38, for example.

That doesn’t sit well with the union representing academic workers or

various other groups in the public sector, where salaries traditionally have been lower than in the private sector but pensions relatively generous. Most private sector workers can at the most hope for 66 percent of their salary when they retire, and that guarantee is quickly disappearing, while public sector workers can get more.

A strike would pull as many as 25,000 public sector workers off the job from 7am Wednesday in Norway’s largest cities. They would include police, prosecutors and police lawyers, a wide range of state workers represented by the union LO Stat, and municipal workers represented by unions UNIO and YS.

Ship pilots are among those selected to go out on strike, reports Aftenposten.no, meaning that several large cruise ships due to call on Oslo Wednesday would be affected. Some have reportedly opted to drop Oslo, while Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was aiming to arrive at the pilot station in the Oslo Fjord before midnight, to avoid any problems in getting to the pier.

Negotiations were expected to continue all evening and likely beyond a midnight strike deadline.