Strike averted, at least for now

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Union and state officials took an unusual break in their negotiations over pension reform during the night, delaying a strike by state and municipal workers in Norway’s major cities for at least 24 hours.

Thousands of workers may still walk off the job on Thursday, depending on the results of difficult negotiations over the rules governing public pension programs.

For now, though, the negotiators are taking a break while top government officials review progress so far and attempt to break the deadlock.

“We simply agreed to take a break,” said national mediator Geir Engebretsen shortly after talks broke off around 2am. He described the situation as “special and complicated.”

At issue are guarantees of pension income and how long it will take to earn full pension benefits. State and city workers can now retire with 66 percent of their most recent salary, if they’ve been on the job for 30 years.

Proposed pension reform would require workers to be on the job for 38 years to win full pension benefits, and workers would receive more of less of their final salary depending on how old they are when they retire. Those retiring earlier than age 65 would receive less, while those working beyond 65 and especially beyond the official retirement age of 67 in Norway would receive more.

The state says it needs to push through pension reform to reduce pension costs. That doesn’t sit well with powerful unions representing workers in the public sector, which pays less than the private sector but has generally offered better pension benefits.

A strike would affect thousands of teachers, police, social service workers and bureaucrats, especially in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Norway’s major cities. Many day care centers would close, school exams would be postponed, health services would be limited and court cases would be interrupted.

Port pilots would also be among those pulled off the job, but the large cruise ship Vision of the Seas managed to sail into Oslo on Wednesday and tie up before any strike was called. The vessel was due to sail out again before the pause in strike negotiation ends.