No end in sight to teachers’ strike

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Talks broke down once again on Sunday between representatives for striking teachers and the Norwegian municipal employers’ organization, KS. As the strike entered its eighth week on Monday, and the third week since school was supposed to start, speculation ran high that the strike may drag on for a long time.

Teachers on strike at Markaplassen School in Trondheim mounted a banner with their main demand: Flexible work hours. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

Teachers on strike at Markaplassen School in Trondheim mounted a banner with their main demand: Flexible work hours. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

Meetings ended Friday with plans for renewed contact on Sunday. After just 20 minutes, though, leaders for both sides said they had made no progress and saw no reason to continue the meeting Sunday afternoon. Teachers’ union leader Ragnhild Lied said KS would not withdraw its demand that teachers spend more time at school, instead of having the work hour flexibility they now enjoy.

“That means we have nothing to move forward with now,” Lied told reporters Sunday evening. Teachers had been prepared to return to their classrooms Monday if KS dropped the demand, without waiting for a membership vote on a formal agreement between their union, Utdanningsforbundet, and KS. But that didn’t happen.

Per Kristian Sundnes of KS said he was sorry no agreement was reached but he wouldn’t take responsibility for the failure to reach a settlement. “The more we try to meet the teachers’ organizations halfway, the more they back off,” Sundnes claimed. “Then we can’t come to any agreement. There are no negotiations.”

Both sides regretted the lack of a settlement and each side blames the other.

“KS’ board has clearly not understood that the teachers’ organizations negotiate on behalf of their members,” Lied said. “Their mandate is clear: Enough’s enough. After several decades in which the teachers steadily have given and not received in negotiations with their employer, they’re putting their collective foot down.”

Strike spirits appear to remain high, with teachers rallying all over the country, also during the weekend. The thorniest issue remains the demand for teachers to be more bound by work hours at school, instead of having the freedom to take work home with them.

No new meetings were scheduled and the strike is due to expand again later this week. Nearly 8,000 teachers are currently off the job, affecting tens of thousands of students around the country except in Oslo, where negotiations were conducted separately and ended in agreement last spring.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund