Strike threat looms again

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Around 25,000 public sector workers may still walk off the job early tomorrow morning, if state mediators fail to wrest a settlement between their unions and the government. Once again, the main stumbling block is over state pension reform efforts.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported late Wednesday afternoon that the two sides in the conflict were still “far apart.” A strike deadline of midnight remained in place, although there was some speculation it may be extended once again.

The state and city workers are determined to retain current pension benefits. The four major unions representing them are united in their demands for full pension benefits after 30 years on the job and 66 percent of their salaries when they retire at age 65.

The government has wanted to extend the earning period to 38 years and pay higher benefits if workers stay on the job, lower if they retire at 65 or earlier. The official retirement age in Norway is 67.

A major strike loomed last week when the deadline for negotiations ran out with no settlement in sight. Instead, both sides agreed to a highly unusual one-week extension and returned to the bargaining table yesterday.

The government minister in charge of labour issues, Dag Terje Andersen, met union leaders Tuesday afternoon but as of Wednesday morning, there was no sign of progress.

The new strike deadline was set for midnight. A strike would disrupt a wide range of public services nationwide, from day care for children to exams for students to court cases now in progress and even the mooring of cruise ships in Norwegian harbours.

A strike would be widely viewed as a defeat for both sides, not least Norway’s Labour Party-led coalition government that’s running for re-election in the fall. The unions, meanwhile, face issues of their own despite outward signs of solidarity. Some want to force guarantees that pensions won’t be subject to later cuts, while there are conflicts between unions representing low-paid workers and those representing high-paid workers.

Negotiations were set to resume at 10am Wednesday.