Emergency talks halted hotel strike

Bookmark and Share

UPDATED: A major nationwide hotel strike in Norway was called off on Saturday before it was due to begin on Monday. Hotels were scrambling during the weekend to alert guests that their doors would be open after all, just as news broke of major new hotel projects due to be built in Stavanger.

Oslo's Grand Hotel didn't need to close after all, following the sudden settlement of a hotel strike before it began. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Oslo’s Grand Hotel didn’t need to close after all, following the sudden settlement of a hotel strike before it began. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The prospects of the negative effects of a costly strike at one of the busiest times of the year resulted in a dramatic situation that brought both sides in the labour conflict back to the bargaining table on Saturday. After just a relatively short period of renegotiation, the hotel owners came forth with an offer that would have avoided the strike ever being called, along with the disruption that ensued.

The sudden resumption in negotiations ended with the hotel workers getting more than double what they were offered by hotel owners last week. The workers must still approve the negotiated settlement between their union, Fellesforbundet, and the hotel employers’ association, NHO Reiseliv, in a vote set for May 22, but the truce called during the weekend was praised by union leaders, suggesting it will be accepted by the rank and file as well.

Freedom Forum announced cancellation
The at least temporary settlement means that around 70 hotels set to close on Monday will now remain open and operate as normal. The settlement didn’t come soon enough, however, for the organizers of this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, which was supposed to run from May 12-14, based from the Grand Hotel. The Grand was among the many hotels hit by the threatened strike, and Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced Friday that the Freedom Forum had been cancelled because of it.

“The hotel management abruptly … informed conference organizers that they would be requiring our entire delegation to check out on Monday, the conference’s opening day,” HRF’s president, Thor Halvorssen, wrote in a press release. “With no hotel available that could accommodate all housing and meals, it was impossible to adequately reschedule … in a city with no hotel rooms.”

Cancellations like that may well have contributed to the hotel employers and their employees’ labour organization deciding to meet again Saturday afternoon with a state mediator. “After a dialogue with both sides, we found out that there was a basis to resume negotiations,” mediator Elisabeth Stenwig told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) late Saturday afternoon.

Sweetened offer and new investments
The new talks resulted in a vastly sweetened offer from the hotel employers’ group that was quickly accepted by the hotel and restaurant workers’ union. The union described it as a “considerable” wage increase that was more than double the employers’ earlier offer.

A strike would have also been costly, coming at the beginning of the tourist season and, not least, at a busy time of the year for conferences, weddings, confirmations and other holiday celebrations. Oslo’s Grand Hotel, for example, is a traditional venue for 17th of May celebrations and this year is especially important because of Norway’s bicentennial festivities. Hotel owners and operators found money for employee pay raises after all.

Meanwhile, the hotel business in many of Norway’s cities seems to be prospering enough to attract billions in new investment. In addition to the recent construction of several hotels in Oslo, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported just before the weekend that hotel projects totalling nearly NOK 3.9 billion (USD 650 million) are planned in Stavanger, also known as Norway’s oil capital. Among them is a project by hotel owner and operator Petter Stordalen and investor Alfred Ydstebø, who won the bidding for a new 250-room “prestige hotel” in Stavanger. That comes on top of a major planned expansion of hotel space in the area, which will see construction of nearly 3,000 new rooms in Stavanger, Sandnes and Sola, representing a 60 percent increase in capacity.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund