The two major lobbying groups representing Norwegian farmers have agreed to accept a new state-subsidized compensation package that’s expected to yield average pay hikes for farmers of 10.5 percent through direct subsidy and protectionism. The farmers had demanded more than twice that, so said they were only somewhat satisfied.
The raise amounts to around NOK 31,000 in extra new income per farmer, which Nils T Bjørke of the farmers’ organization Norges Bondelag himself acknowledged was around NOK 12,000 more than most Norwegian labour organizations had managed to extract from state and private employers. Bjørke nonetheless was only moderately satisfied, he said, because he and his colleagues claim Norwegian farmers in general earn far less than other Norwegian workers.
The raise narrowed the gap a bit, he said, and “we have broken a barrier.” They had wanted as much as NOK 47,000, after receiving effective average raises of 11.5 percent last year.
Bjørke said the agreement was important for the farmers and it means the state, not least the left-center government running for re-election this fall, will avoid another disruptive labour conflict with angry farmers.
Agriculture Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of the small farmer-friendly Center Party hailed the agreement and its terms, claiming it represented “a real boost” for farmers and “indicates ambitions of further increases.” His party, which has the support of less than 5 percent of Norwegian voters, desperately needs support from the farmers this fall if they’re to retain seats in parliament, much less win re-election to government power in their coalition with the Labour and Socialist Left parties.
The government had, however, initially countered the farmers’ demands with a raise of around NOK 25,000 per farmer. It thus sweetened its offer considerably after negotiations began over the weekend.
The deal announced on Wednesday offers better terms for producers of beef, grain and vegetables, where market possibilities were deemed to be best. It means the farmers will be allowed to demand higher prices and keep cheaper imports out of the market, but the farmers’ organization claimed the average Norwegian family would only end up paying around NOK 360 more per year at the grocery store.
As details of the deal are studied, however, there may be protests from other sectors within Norway’s food industry, especially the specialty producers who don’t deal with the farmers’ largest cooperatives like Tine for dairy products and Nortura for meat. Some specialty producers of beef for high-end restaurants have expressed concerns that they may be squeezed out by the big cooperatives that seek to control the Norwegian market.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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