Labour talks drag on in overtime

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UPDATED: The first major labour negotiating session of the year extended into its 15th hour of overtime Wednesday afternoon as speculation grew over a possible industrial strike. Top officials from Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO showed up at the site of the negotiations, however, raising hopes for a settlement.

Thousands of industrial workers in Norway reported for duty as normal Wednesday morning after labour negotiators opted against calling a major strike at midnight. The strike threat still loomed, however, after several days of marathon bargaining failed to result in a settlement.

The negotiations being handled by state mediator Nils Dalseide at the Thon Hotel Opera in Oslo faced a deadline of midnight on Tuesday but both sides – the large trade union federation Fellesforbundet and the organization representing industrial employers Norsk Industri – apparently saw enough potential to keep talking to avoid a strike.

Status of issues unclear
Dalseide told reporters he can’t comment on the status of specific issues, but one of the thorniest was the unions’ desire to have influence over pension programs, which now are mostly under the purview of employers. The workers aren’t complaining about the terms of their current pension plans, but want to make sure they won’t be changed at a time of national pension reform and ever-rising pension costs.

More than 9,000 workers at more than 100 industrial firms, including many tied to Norway’s important offshore oil and gas industry, may be called out on strike if negotiations get stuck. Another 1,972 members of the labour federations Parat and SAFE are also negotiating separately with representatives for around 25 other companies and may go out on strike as well.

Ripple effect for other negotiations
While the threatened strikes won’t initially have many adverse effects on day-to-day life for the vast majority of people in Norway, the outcome of this first round of negotiations is important because of the effect it can have on many other rounds of labour negotiations scheduled throughout the spring.

The unions and employers involved are called “frontfagene,” meaning they can set the tone and terms for pension and wage negotiations for hundreds of thousands of other organized workers in Norway. Labour researchers note that it’s unusual for the frontfagene to strike, or even come as close to striking as they were Wednesday morning.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund