Airports avert another strike

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Travelers in and out of Norway could breathe a sigh of relief on Monday after air traffic controllers dropped their threat to go out on strike. Marathon bargaining sessions during the night led to an agreement at around 4am, meaning airlines could take off and land on schedule.

Travelers through Norwegian airports could avoid disruption after a strike by air traffic controllers was averted during the night. PHOTO: Avinor

The strike had been threatened at the height of the summer holiday travel season and could have seriously disrupted traffic through Norwegian airports, just weeks after another strike involving airport security guards caused severe disruption and forced some airports to close.

The air traffic controllers had been unhappy for months and broke off negotiations with the employers’ organization Spekter, which was representing the state agency running Norway’s airports, Avinor. The controllers’ labour organization, Norsk Flygelederforening (NFF), had been reluctant to comment on their demands, which reportedly concerned pay levels and what NFF chairman Robert Gjønnes called “social” issues.

He claimed over the weekend that pay wasn’t the most important issue in the air traffic controllers’ dispute with Avinor. Rather, Gjønnes said it involved “the total profile with special emphasis on the social profile,” because of an alleged need for frequent overtime.

Gjønnes complained that staffing problems at Norway’s air traffic control centers currently were being addressed mostly through the need to routinely work overtime. That was causing problems for air traffic controllers, he suggested, and there recently has been a rise in the number of those calling in sick. The sick leave already led to delays in take-offs and landings at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen earlier this month.

State mediator Nils Dalseide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) early Monday that the two sides nonetheless carried on “very positive and constructive” talks that ran for four hours after a midnight deadline. If they’d failed to reach agreement, a strike would have begun six hours after the breakdown.

Dalseide said he presented a compromise that finally was accepted by both NFF and Spekter on behalf of Avinor, with the mediator claiming that neither side had wanted travelers or airlines to suffer as they surely would have in the event of a strike.

Details of the agreement weren’t immediately available but Gjønnes said he was “sorry that we didn’t secure the social and welfare elements we were concerned about, but at the same time we have secured some elements that were important for us.” He claimed pay raises were at the same level as other groups in Norway, indicating increases of around 4 percent.

“But pay wasn’t the most important for us,” he repeated. Anne-Karin Bratten of Spekter said her organization was also relieved that a strike was avoided.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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