More than 600,000 employees of state and local governments may walk off the job from May 26 if they fail to iron out their differences with their public sector employers. Negotiations broke off on Wednesday, sending all the labour and employer organizations involved into mandatory arbitration.
Now it will be up to state mediators to try to avoid strikes by teachers and a wide range of other public sector workers represented by the trade union federations LO, Unio, YS and Akademikerne.
Quarreling over pay raises
The unions are demanding pay raises of around 3.8 percent, claiming the public sector has been lagging behind the raises secured by industrial workers and other groups. While industrial workers are expected to accept pay raises of 3.3 percent when they vote on their own proposed settlement next week, the public sector workers claim they need bigger raises to catch up with earlier income growth in other sectors.
The public sector employers, not least at the local level, warn, however that every tenth of a percentage point in pay increases amounts to another NOK 200 million in costs to taxpayers. Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier this week that many municipalities already have budgeted for raises of 3.5 percent, higher than the 3.1 percent offered by the nationwide local government employers’ organization KS. The employees’ demand of 3.8 percent would thus cost another NOK 1.4 billion.
Teachers most likely to strike
It’s widely expected that they’ll all meet in the middle and end up with raises of between 3.3 and 3.5 percent, hopefully before the May 26 strike deadline. That would avert the threat of serious public sector disruption at what generally is a very busy time of the year in the weeks leading up to summer holidays.
Aftenposten reported that the threat of a strike is highest among teachers, who not only want higher pay but also strenuously object to proposals for new work rules that would require them to be more physically present on school grounds instead of taking work home with them. Lots of back-room negotiations reportedly have been going on, however, so there are hopes mediation will avert a teachers’ strike as well.