Negotiators headed off bank strike

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Norwegians hoarded cash through record withdrawals, fearing the effects of Norway’s first bank strike in 35 years, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Late-night talks led to a settlement that headed off a strike by bank employees early Tuesday.

Talks continued beyond Monday’s midnight deadline and after a few hours of overtime negotiations, national mediator Kari Gjesteby could announce a settlement between the union representing more than 15,000 bank employees, Finansborbundet, and the bank employers’ organization Finansnæringens Arbeidsgiverforening.

“We have reached an acceptable result,” Jorunn Berland of Finansforbundet told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It was tough, but we’re glad we could avoid a strike. That would have had consequences for many.”

A strike would have shut down all minibanks (automated teller machines, ATMs) in Norway and made it almost impossible for Norwegians to use their debit- or credit cards. Since Norwegians have a tendency to use their cards for just about anything, even small purchases or everyday transactions like those at parking meters or for public transport, a strike would have severely disrupted payment systems nationwide.

That in turn led to long lines at minibanks and in bank branches on Monday, where some waited for hours to withdraw cash. VG Nett reported record withdrawals estimated to total around NOK 1.15 billion (USD 209 million) during the course of the day.

Now there’s a lot of cash in Norwegian households and police were issuing warnings against pick-pocketing. Banks and merchants were relieved a strike was averted.

“I’m very glad that we didn’t get into a situation where the public would also be in a difficult situation,” Jon Asker, managing director of the employers’ group told NRK.

Bank employees will get an overall raise of at least NOK 5,400 and the two sides also agreed on compensation for programs aimed at competence development. Older bank employees will be extended special competence development programs and both sides agreed to create measures to boost the number of women within top bank management. The settlement also covers workers in the insurance industry.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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