Dockers fail to win much support

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Dockworkers in Norway who’ve been boycotting a terminal near Stavanger and launching sympathy strikes haven’t won much support in the media or among public servants. Now one top city politician in Oslo claims the labour conflict has gone too far.

The city-owned Oslo harbour operator has also landed in a serious labour conflict with the strong dockers' union, but isn't backing down yet in its efforts to make harbour operations more efficient and less expensive. PHOTO: Oslo Havn KF

The city-owned Oslo harbour operator has also landed in a serious labour conflict with the strong dockers’ union, but isn’t backing down yet in its efforts to make harbour operations more efficient and less expensive. PHOTO: Oslo Havn KF

The dockworkers “must simply accept that they’re not living in the beginning of the last century,” Carl I Hagen, former head of the Progress Party who now is a leader of the Oslo City Council’s transport and environmental committee, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. “They have to end these stupid and unnecessary boycott actions.”

Hagen has never been known as a champion of the labour movement, but the dockers haven’t been getting much public support from labour-oriented politicians or even other labour organizers either. Many agree that the dockers’ insistence on maintaining their monopoly of vessel loading and unloading in Norway is old-fashioned and expensive, at a time when harbour operators and politicians around the country are trying to make harbours more efficient and transfer more cargo from Norway’s over-burdened roads to shipping along the coast.

Hagen claims the harbour conflicts that are now spreading around the country are sabotaging political efforts to move more cargo to more environmentally friendly shipping routes. “We won’t get cargo from trucks and even trains over to sea transport, which is much better for the environment,” he told NRK.

‘World’s most expensive lunch breaks’
The long-simmering labour conflict between the dockers’ union, Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund (NTF), and harbour operators  expanded over the weekend. The boycott at the Risavika terminal outside of Stavanger continues and now the harbours in Tromsø and Mosjøen have been taken out in sympathy strikes. In Oslo, vessels have been sailing before they’re fully loaded, because the dockers gather for what’s been called “the most expensive lunch breaks in the world” or simply haven’t done their jobs before the vessels’ scheduled sailing times.

It all threatens cargo delivery during the busy holiday season and the dockers are unrelenting, blaming the disruptions on an unwillingness by the harbour operators to negotiate with them. “We have now boycotted the Risavika Terminal for more than a month, and the employer there still hasn’t shown any willingness to talk,” Roger Hansen of  NTF told news bureau NTB on Sunday. “All we’ve heard is sabre-rattling.” Hansen says it thus may be necessary to expand their strikes again.

‘Declaration of war’
The conflict stems from the Risavika operator’s refusal to sign a new agreement that will give the dockers in NTF rights to all work carried out at the harbour. That’s part of international agreements, stresses Hansen, who equated the harbour employer’s refusal to sign “a declaration of war.” He claims the harbours and terminals like Risavika want to use “underpaid foreign seafarers instead,” to help with the vessel loading and unloading, which he believes amounts to social dumping.

Even the head of the union that’s part of Norway’s labour confederation LO shakes his head at that, though. Leif Sande of the LO union Industri Energi notes that the work at Risavika is now carried out by union members. “This isn’t about social dumping at all,” Sande told NTB. “These are folks who do a serious job for good pay and working conditions.”

Sande also notes that both LO and employers’ organization NHO have examined the situation at Risavika and concluded that Risavika is free to choose who can work there. LO Central, meanwhile, still favours NTF and is backing the sympathy strikes.

Newspaper Aftenposten reporte that more than 90 percent of harbour users, questioned in a survey survey carried out for the harbour employers, believes that the dockers’ long-held right to load and unload containers, for example, is a problem for harbour efficiency. Hansen of NTF scoffed at the survey, and still blames the operators for failing to honour the dockers’ rights in international agreements. He described the situation as deadlocked.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund