Striking teachers positive to new talks

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The leader of thousands of striking Norwegian teachers, Ragnhild Lied, said she was “positive” to the prospect of a new meeting with the teachers’ local government employers on Wednesday. Lied and the teachers’ other representatives were expecting to be “invited” for another round of talks aimed at getting everyone back to school.

Ragnhild Lied, leader of the largest teachers' union (Utanningsforbundet) said she was "positive" to the prospect of new talks with the teachers' local government employers' organization. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

Ragnhild Lied, leader of the largest teachers’ union (Utanningsforbundet) said she was “positive” to the prospect of new talks with the teachers’ local government employers’ organization. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

Another 2,200 teachers were poised to walk off the job on Thursday if the strike that began in June drags on. The start of the school year has been severely disrupted for thousands of pupils and their parents all over the country except in Oslo, where teachers negotiate separately and agreed on a new contract last spring.

As the strike threatened to spread to around 200 schools this week there were signs that the organization representing the teachers’ local government employers, KS, was ready to head back to the bargaining table. It remained unclear, however, whether KS was willing to give up its demand that teachers spend at least 7.5 hours on school premises every day. That has infuriated the teachers, who want to retain more flexible work hours and prepare for classes at home, for example.

KS chairman Gunn Marit Helgesen told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that the organization was sorry that the strike was affecting thousands of schools and students around the country. She indicated she was “reaching out a hand” to the teachers, not least after getting signals from both state and local political leaders all over Norway who are pressing to get the strike settled. The mayor of Stavanger, which is among cities hit hardest by the strike, made it clear on state broadcaster NRK’s national nightly newscast Tuesday that she wants KS to drop its work hours demand and get the teachers back to work.

“It is important to end the strike as quickly as possible,” Helgesen agreed after around 100 striking teachers had stood shoulder-to-shoulder around KS’ headquarters building in downtown Oslo on Tuesday, often singing protest songs with their own special lyrics. That came as good news to thousands of teachers who were also out demonstrating in the center of Trondheim Tuesday evening.

KS negotiators have been frustrated, however, over what they claim are alternating demands from the teachers. A KS official indicated the controversial work-hours demand could be eased, but then the teachers also wanted more pay and other benefits, complicating efforts to reach agreement.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday that the principals at many schools had joined striking teachers, while newspaper Aftenposten reported that teachers were being criticized for using strong language on social media sites that amounted to bullying of KS. Tensions are running high on both sides, with the teachers vowing to stay on strike for a long time unless their demands are met. Berglund