State workers head back to work

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The last of Norway’s striking public sector workers have finally agreed to go back to work, but not happily. Their lead negotiator, viewed as the most demanding of the various labour organizations involved, still didn’t agree on pay issues with the state, so their settlement will be handled through arbitration.

Unio's lead negotiator Arne Johannessen finally agreed to end the strike after 15 days but wasn't conceding defeat. PHOTO: Unio

Negotiator Arne Johannessen claimed that he and Unio leader Anders Folkestad “took responsibility” both for putting Unio members with lengthy education “on the agenda” and for ending the strike that dragged on for 15 days. State negotiators and even some other union leaders didn’t agree, claiming that Unio urged a strike before negotiations with state employers even began last month.

Johannessen and Folkestad also had refused to accept a settlement involving a pay raise of just over 4 percent when other labour organizations did. They kept more than 3,000 Unio members including police officers, college and university lecturers, researchers and state meteorologists off the job and added to their ranks this week, even after admitting that they realized they likely wouldn’t win better terms than the other unions.

It was all over late Thursday afternoon. Both Johannessen and Rigmor Aasrud, the government minister from the Labour Party ultimately in charge of the negotiations with state unions, still didn’t come to terms on salaries but agreed to let the commission known as lønnsnemd settle the conflict. The voluntary decision to go into arbitration means Unio will have a better chance of at least securing what the other unions did, instead of risking a poorer settlement if arbitration was forced. The length of the strike had meant there was a clear risk of forced arbitration (tvungen lønnsnemd).

“I’m glad the strike is now over, so that work can resume,” Aasrud told reporters after the parties involved emerged from another round of talks with a state mediator Thursday evening. She had claimed all along that salary expectations had been much too high from the outset.

Johannessen, who was putting the best possible face on the situation, claimed he was also glad the strike was over and that Unio was still “standing upright.”

“We have taken responsibilty for putting university- and college-educated workers on the agenda,” Johannessen claimed. “Now we’re taking responsibility for ending the strike. This strike has created problems for folks in their everyday life, we (now) restore a normal situation.”

That means TV weather reports could return to state broadcaster NRK, students can take their final exams and police officers can resume criminal investigations. Aasrud expected all the roughly 3,500 striking state workers to be back on the job Friday.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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