State workers get big pay rise

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Government employees at the national and local authority level have received 4 and 4.3 percent wage increases respectively after the close of the annual round of pay negotiations between unions and employees.

Four federations of trade unions – 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) – were involved in the negotiations, with their national level sections negotiating with the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs, and their local authority representatives engaging with KS, the local authorities’ employer’s organization. At the national level, the negotiations ended in a negotiated settlement for the first time since 2005, while the local level agreement was the first achieved through negotiation since 2007.

A number of parts of the public sector have experienced less favourable wage settlements then the private sector in recent years, which has led to the high wage increase in this year’s negotiation round. National wage negotiations began in March between key private sector unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO), setting a framework of a 3.65 percent rise that usually sets the tone for the outcomes in other areas of the economy. The state and local authority negotiations began last Wednesday.

‘Unanimous yes’
All 130,000 state employees covered by the negotiations will receive a wage increase of at least NOK 7,000 (USD 1,335). A further 0.15 percent has been set aside for local negotiations in October.

The leader of LO’s national government workers’ section, Tone Rønoldtangen, told news agency NTB that the union were “especially satisfied” with the negotiated outcome and “a very good rise for the lowest paid in the sector.” Pål N Arnesen of YS’s national section echoed these sentiments, telling NTB that the result “takes care completely of the main demands we put forward.” Unio’s chief negotiators, Arne Johannessen was also pleased, describing “a unanimous negotiating group that said ‘yes’ to this suggestion,” which guarantees an improvement in the workers’ purchasing power.

The minister involved, Rigmore Aasrud of the Labour Party, wanted to “give the parties involved praise” after the settlement because they had “achieved agreement in the wage settlement within a responsible framework.” “The wage settlements must be in line with what is bearable for the Norwegian economy over time,” he added.

‘Important’ local results
Negotiations at the local authority level ended at midnight on Saturday after agreeing a 4.3 percent national framework for around 338,500 staff, which also carries with it at least NOK 7,000 (USD 1,335) for all affected workers. Had negotiations gone on any longer, the government arbitrators would have had to have stepped in. The local authority sections of the four different trade union federations involved in the negotiations originally demanded a 4.8 percent increase. They were offered a general increase of NOK 4,000 (over USD 760) before the NOK 7,000 deal was finalized.

KS‘s Per Kristian Sundnes told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “there is no doubt that the result is well above what the local authority finances give room for” as the state budget allowed a wage increase of only 3.25 percent. Sundnes believes that this was “completely unrealistic,” and welcomed the result of the negotiations as “important, not least in terms of the competition for a competent workforce.”

The unions involved were more cautious in welcoming the agreement. Unio’s Mimi Bjerkestrand, speaking to NTB, stated that the result was “acceptable” but that they “still have a job to do in order to give a better recruitment situation when it comes to people with higher education.” She described the fact that the outcome was higher than in other sectors as “absolutely necessary in order to take back some of the pay-related lag that local authority employees have had.”

The separate negotiations undertaken by Oslo City Council, meanwhile, broke off on Friday night, and will require state arbitration. The negotiations in the capital cover around 10,000 people, and broke off after the employers had offered a wage rise of 3.7 percent.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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