Welfare worker dies from stab wounds

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UPDATED: The young welfare worker in her 30s who was stabbed in her Oslo office by a disgruntled client early Monday morning died on Thursday at Ullevål University Hospital. Charges against her assailant were expanded to include murder on Friday, as her death intensified calls for stricter security at local NAV welfare offices around the country.

“The most terrible thing has happened,” NAV regional director Marit Jansen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday night. “We have lost a good and dear colleague. All our thoughts go to her family, friends and colleagues.”

‘Very painful’
NAV colleagues gathered in sorrow at their offices Friday morning and were holding special gatherings to comfort and support one another. “This is the worst thing that can happen in any workplace,” said one NAV official on national radio early Friday. “Our employees will get the care they need.”

Labour Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told NRK that it was “very painful to get a message that an employee of NAV has been killed. Our thoughts go first and foremost to her family and friends. Her colleagues at NAV have witnessed a tragic event and experienced the loss of a dear colleague who was working to help others.”

The young woman was stabbed repeatedly by a 26-year-old welfare client who also had a criminal record. He was arrested at his home near the Ammerud NAV office in Oslo less than 10 minutes after his attack, and police also found him in possession of the knife used in the attack.

Now charged with murder
On Wednesday his defense attorney described him as “sick” and likely unable to stand trial. The defendant had already been charged with attempted murder, a charge that was expanded to murder on Friday, according to police. The 26-year-old is now being held in a psychiatric unit pending a medical evaluation of his state of mind. He hadn’t been told as of late Thursday night that his victim had died.

The head of NAV, Joakim Lystad, expressed condolences to the woman’s family and friends. “We are so sorry about this,” Lystad said. “It’s terrible when a colleague who worked to help people should be killed at her place of work.”

Mimmi Kvisvik, leader of the labour organization representing NAV workers (Fellesorganisajonen, FO), claimed the stabbing highlights the need for new and stricter security measures that must be put in place. She clearly wasn’t satisfied with comments from Huitfeldt on Monday that officials merely need to “examine” their security routines at NAV offices.

‘Something must be done’
“This just shows that something must be done,” Kvisvik told NRK. “You can’t just say this is something we need to take a look at, and then nothing happens.”

Kvisvik is calling for a ban on NAV employees working alone with clients. “And it’s not enough with just physical security improvements,” she said. “We need more staffing to make the workplace safer.”

Newspaper VG has earlier reported a sharp rise in the threats and incidents of violence directed at NAV employees by welfare clients. In 2010, there were 481 registered incidents. Last year the number rose to 1,261 and incidents were rising even more quickly this year, to 598 by May.

NAV handles all forms of social welfare assistance in Norway, from sick pay to pension benefits, parental leave and unemployment compensation. Many clients are troubled or in desperate situations. VG reported that 28 incidents of physical attacks on NAV workers were registered during the first four months of this year, compared to 41 in all of last year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund