Strikes loom after talks broke down

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Thousands of industrial workers in Norway may go on strike Wednesday after labour negotiations broke down just before the weekend between the trade union federation Fellesforbundet and the organization representing industrial employers, Norsk Industri. Kværner, IKM and Aibel are among companies that may be affected.

All told, the strikes would involve 102 companies that are members of Norsk Industri and 9,358 workers who are members of Fellesforbundet. That’s only 30 percent, though, of the union’s members in a conflict that’s meant to set the tone for other labour negotiations throughout the spring bargaining season.

Pension pressure
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported over the weekend that the union, the largest in the Norwegian trade union confederation LO, has opted to pull unusually few workers off the job. That’s because they want to avoid being ordered by the state into mandatory arbitration.

The union’s strategy is to pressure companies just enough to increase their chances of prevailing on their most important issue, pension provisions. In the wake of massive state pension reform, many labour organizations now realize that workers face collecting lower pension income in the future and they want to add pension terms to the negotiating process. Employers, faced with ever-rising pension costs, have firmly resisted pension negotiations.

Other issues include relatively moderate wage increases to ensure current levels of purchasing power at a time of low inflation. The union wants to raise wages for those earning the least, however, and boost overtime pay and some benefits like food allowances.

Deadline at midnight Tuesday
The union is also bargaining for more days off for senior workers, time off for parents to escort their children to doctors’ appointments and courses in the Norwegian language and work culture for foreign workers.

The industrial employers, meanwhile, want to expand the framework for what’s considered “normal work hours” and introduce new terms for offshore workers’ shift rotations, among other issues.

If no agreement is reached after the intervention of state mediator Nil Dalseide by midnight Tuesday, strikes will begin from Wednesday morning, unless the deadline is extended. Berglund