New union boss to pose challenges

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Mette Nord, the woman recently elected to lead Norway’s largest labour union, has vowed to further its left-leaning agenda. Nord says she will fight the Conservative government on any changes to working hours, social and tax policies that she believes will lead to inequality and the privatization of public services.

New union boss Mette Nord says she'll challenge policies that threaten workers' rights. PHOTO: fagforbundet.no

New union boss Mette Nord says she’ll challenge policies that threaten workers’ rights. PHOTO: fagforbundet.no

Nord was elected unopposed to become the first woman to lead the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (Fagforbundet). The 330,000-member, predominately female labour organization was formed in 2003 through the merger of the Union of Municipal Employees (Norsk Kommuneforbund) and the Association of Health and Social Care Personnel (Norsk Helse- og Sosialforbund, NHS).

The 54-year-old Nord joins several other women in some of Norway’s most powerful positions, including Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Finance Minister and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, Kristin Skogen Lund of the employers’ organization NHO, and Gerd Kristiansen, who heads the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO), the country’s largest labour union umbrella group.

Nord takes over from Jan Davidsen, a union leader and viewed as one of Norway’s most powerful persons for almost two decades. Nord plans to steer Fagforbundet down the same social welfare path as her predecessor.

Political situation ‘different’
“We have had eight years of a government that mostly did what we wanted,” she says, referring to the Labour Party-led coalition that was voted out of office in September. “Now, the political situation is different.” Nord says she’ll resort to strike action and other measures of union force if provoked.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that her major concern is to secure members’ interests into the future. “The state budget casts growing differences,” Nord says. “We have tax cuts that favour the richest. Equality is threatened, and the maximum price of day care is rising. Much of it is done under the banner of choice. Choice? Yes well, we wonder for whom?”

“We see that big changes to municipal structure have been proposed. Furthermore, we will fight against increased competition and more privatization,” says Nord, concerned by government moves to overhaul the welfare sector. “First, we lose influence over the development of services. Second, if the want to move services from public to private, it means meaningful decisions are made in closed boardrooms. It’s an end to taxpayers’ money being under open management and control. Instead, more and more will be considered trade secrets. The impact and influence of our members may therefore be reduced.”

Gender equality high on her agenda
Dagsavisen reports that gender equality is another pet issue of Nord’s, who warns that new Conservative government policies pose a threat to women’s workplace participation. Nord will also oppose moves to soften workplace laws and make working hours more flexible, reports newspaper DagensNæringsliv (DN). “I think 95 per cent of applicants for exemptions from regulations on working hours get approved. The flexibility is there already,” says Nord, concerned that the changes will result in longer shifts for workers.

Nord was born in Drammen and began her career as a nursing assistant, before moving into healthcare administration, reported Dagsavisen. She spent 30 years rising through the ranks at NHS, and was deputy of the Telemark branch of the union before being voted into the central leadership in 2005.

In 2009 she became union deputy. She most recently held the position of state secretary in the prime minister’s office during Labour-leader Jens Stoltenberg’s tenure, but was on leave ahead of the union elections.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate