Despite pleas from state and local officials to settle an upcoming school strike, leaders of the national teachers’ union unveiled plans Wednesday to call another 5,500 teachers off the job next week, when they were supposed to be planning the new school year. Strike plans now will affect 132 schools nationwide, in 22 municipalities and 18 counties.
According to the lists of schools where teachers will be taken off the job, Norway’s largest cities will be hit the hardest, including Bergen where the strike officially began in June. After being dormant most of the summer because of school holidays, another 900 teachers in Hordaland County alone are now poised to walk off the job.
Oslo schools are not included in the strike because teachers in the capital negotiate separately and came to terms over work hours with their city employers last spring. Negotiations did not go as well elsewhere around the country. Even though the country’s largest teachers’ union, Utdanningsforbundet, agreed to a settlement with the local government employers’ organization KS, more than 70 percent of the union’s members turned it down.Three smaller teachers’ unions rejected KS’ offer as well.
That now means the start of the new school year will be severely disrupted for thousands of teachers and their students unless a settlement is reached between now and the week of August 18, when the fall term is due to begin.
At issue is a fundamental disagreement over how teachers should be allowed to organize their work day. KS wants them present on the school grounds for at least 7.5 hours a day, while many teachers are accustomed to more flexible work days in which they take work home with them.
In Oslo, a strike was avoided because the city’s Conservatives-led government “was interested in finding a solution we could agree on instead of opting for a confontrational approach,” Terje Vilno of Utdanningforbundet’s local chapter told newspaper Dagsavisen. He said no written demand was included in their contract with the city that they be present at school 37.5 hours per week. Instead, it was agreed that the most important issue wasn’t where or when the teachers did their job, but how.
“It’s most important that the teachers do a good job in their meetings with students,” Vilno said. “Where and when they prepare for those meetings is less important.” He said that the union has an agreement that allows teachers at individual schools to set up their own work schedules, and Oslo employers and teachers also agreed on a pilot program involving 40 schools to test different schedules.
‘Look to Oslo’
State officials are not directly involved in the conflict between the local government employers’ organization KS and the teachers, but Education Minister Torbjørn Roe Isaksen asked both sides this week to “look to Oslo” in efforts to avoid a strike. The various parties involved in Oslo “came to terms,” he noted, and managed to do that by negotiating in a “different manner.”
While acknowledging that strikes are “a legal approach, Isaksen stressed that “they will affect a third party, for example the students. Both sides here are obliged to take responsibility for a conflict and find a solution.”
Signs of ‘movement’
Union leader Ragnhild Lied, whose initial settlement with KS was rejected by a vast majority of her union’s membership, said earlier this week that she had little faith a strike could be avoided. On Wednesday afternoon, however, KS leaders were suggesting they were open to more negotiations and would be willing to renegotiate the controversial 7.5-hour work rule.
Lied responded that her union had been waiting for some sign of “movement” beyond the stalemate that emerged at a recent attempt at mediation. “Now there is some movement,” Lied told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Then we will of course re-enter talks.”
It’s now expected that the state mediator will call in both sides for new talks early next week. “My appeal,” said Isaksen, the education minister, “is that they all sit down and find a solution before this conflict expands. Otherwise it will hurt both students and their parents.”
To see NRK’s list of schools targeted by the strike, click here (external link to NRK’s website) and scroll to the bottom, where schools are listed, county by county.