Major strike looms in public sector

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Schools and day care centers may close, and nursing homes and a variety of other public services will be affected, if Norway’s biggest public sector unions opt to pull their members off the job on Thursday in the latest battle over equal pay.

Norway is arguably among the countries in the world that has come farthest in equal pay for equal work, but gaps between men’s and women’s salary levels remain. The spirit for a strike is said to be high, especially in professions where women dominate.

A group of teachers at Kastellet Elementary School in Oslo, for example, assembled for a group photo in newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday, with arms raised in a gesture of support for a strike and in frustration over the fact that female-dominated professions haven’t seen the same degree of “pay development” as those dominated by men.

At issue now is how much extra money should be earmarked to close the gap, in addition to funding for an overall pay hike in line with those won by other branches so far this spring. They have hovered around 3 percent.

Negotiations between public sector employers and unions Fagforbundet, Unio, Akademikerne and YS  broke down earlier this month and mediation hadn’t led to any settlement as a midnight deadline neared on Wednesday. The unions were prepared to call as many as 30,000 members out on strike as of Thursday.

In Oslo initial phases of a strike were set to hit hardest in Nordstrand, Østensjø and Vestre Aker, involving 10 schools, 14 day care centers (barnehager) and three nursing homes. Police, colleges and the university would also be hit, along with many state services.

Elsewhere in Norway, a strike would also affect nursing homes, schools, day care centers and municipal administration in Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Tromsø, Fredrikstad and Ullensaker.

“We’re willing to strike to even out differences between the sexes in both the private and public sectors,” teacher Katrine Nelson told newspaper Aftenposten. She said the unions are relying on Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, from the Labour Party, “to lay the money on the table.”

Meamwhile, a strike within the transport and cleaning (renhold) sectors continued on Wednesday, with some other unions threatening sympathy strikes if others start doing the jobs of those on strike.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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