State unions to demand higher wages

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Trade unions representing 130,000 state employees and 338,500 workers in local authorities have indicated that they will not accept a lower pay rise than their private sector counterparts in anticipation of wage negotiations set to start at 10:00 on Wednesday 27th April.

Trade unions on a past march for Labour Day, pictured above, are gearing up for further wage negotiations just before this year's annual May 1 demonstrations. PHOTO: Views and News

State workers at both the national and local level will see their union leaders enter negotiations with employers’ representatives this week as part of annual pay negotiations. The national wage settlement began in March and by April reached an agreement over a 3.65 percent pay rise for industrial workers and others in the private sector, which will set the tone for the coming negotiations in other sectors and at the local level.

Midnight deadline
Negotiators have agreed a three day timetable that should lead to an agreement by midnight on April 30, although it is possible to continue on during May 1. If an agreement cannot be reached at this point, government arbitrators will become involved. The negotiations will include the local authority and state sections of the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen, LO), the Confederation of Vocational Unions (Yrkesorganisasjonenes Sentralforbund, YS), the Confederation of Unions for Professionals (Unio) and the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne). They will negotiate with the employer’s organization KS at the local authority level, and the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs at the state level.

The leader of YS‘s state section, Pål Arnesen, would not give away his exact negotiating position, but confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that his members would not accept the same settlement agreed in the private sector. The trade unionist, who represents 26,099 members in unions including librarians, teachers and tax authority personnel, stated that “we can no longer accept lagging behind in wage growth.” He pointed to the fact that last year saw a 4.25 percent wage increase for top level employees, which was above that received by front-line workers.

‘Keep up with the private sector’
The Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE) leader, Jan Davidsen, also told NRK that he believed the state and local workers’ deal would be better than the one agreed during private sector negotiations “because of the lag in wage growth and what management have received in the state sector.” NUMGE is the largest trade union in LO with 300,000 members in the private sector, hospitals and local and county government. The leader of Unio, Anders Folkestad, agreed too, commenting to news agency NTB that “if the public sector wants to keep pace with the private sector, then we must have at least a 4 percent increase.”

The 2011 national wage negotiations in both the private and public sector began in March and are part of a so-called mellomoppgjør – a smaller set of negotiations in the middle of the 2010-2 negotiating period that generally focuses only on pay issues. Nonetheless, the agreement reached between LO, YS and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) last month also included provisions to improve lifelong learning and equality in the workplace. The unions were happy with the real wage increases, while NHO sounded caution about the effect that any further pay growth might have on the competitiveness of Norwegian companies. Norwegian workers have seen their real wages increase 28 percent between 1999 and 2009.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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