State politicians including Prime Minister Erna Solberg were worried on Friday that an ongoing teachers strike could drag on for a long time, after talks broke down again Thursday night. The state mediator agreed there were no grounds to continue the talks when the two sides were so far apart.
The teachers’ unions had resumed talks with the national organization representing their local government employers, KS, earlier this week and initially said the “tone was good.” By Thursday afternoon, however, the mood had changed.
‘Don’t understand the seriousness’
“KS has not understood the seriousness of the situation and won’t meet us halfway,” Ragnhild Lied, leader of Norway’s largest teachers’ union Utdanningsforbundet, told newspaper Aftenposten after 12 hours of talks on Thursday. “Therefore we don’t see any reason to continue mediation.”
Three other smaller unions representing teachers also decided to break off mediation with KS. More than 6,000 teachers at 132 schools around Norway are already on strike at a time when teachers otherwise would be preparing for the new school year that begins next week. In some areas of Norway, school was supposed to start this week, and students showing up for class were sent home on Thursday.
Mediation reportedly has been difficult because of the teachers’ frustration with their local government employers. The main issue has been over work hours but teachers also now feel the municipal officials lack confidence in them. KS officials have also complained of a lack of mutual confidence, and claim they’re frustrated as well.
State staying out of the conflict
State government officials are not officially involved in the negotiations and Solberg told reporters on Friday that the strike may drag on unless the two sides make more efforts to end it. Neither she nor other government ministers will involve themselves at this point, calling the strike “a legal means” to be used in a labour dispute and that Norway’s system of “local democracy” also must be respected. The state can only step in and end a strik when it is determined to affect life or health.
As many as 90,000 teachers can be taken off the job if the strike continues and spreads. The start of school looked likely to be disrupted all over the country on Monday except in Oslo, were negotiations between teachers and the city were conducted separately and the two sides came to terms in June.