Teachers won as strike finally ends

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UPDATED: A nationwide teachers’ strike that severely disrupted the start of the new school year is over, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. Teachers won the right to refuse working on more rigid schedules, and students were likely to finally head back to school on Tuesday.

Ragnhild Lied, head of Norway's largest teachers' union, has initially accepted KS work hour demands but they were rejected by a vote of the teachers themselves. That set off the strike that began in June and expanded when school was supposed to start in mid-August. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

Ragnhild Lied, head of Norway’s largest teachers’ union, had initially accepted KS’ work hour demands but they were rejected by a vote of the teachers themselves. That set off the strike that began in June and expanded when school was supposed to start in mid-August. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet

The teachers and their municipal employers’ association KS held a press conference at 8:30am, at which they announced that they’d “found a solution” to the most difficult point in their troubled negotiations: How much time teachers should actually spend on school grounds. KS had demanded 7.5 hours per day, while teachers prefer to prepare for classes on a more flexible basis, often by working at home. The teachers have also stressed that they often need to work in the evenings, to talk to working parents of their students.

The two sides have remained deadlocked on the issue, despite repeated attempts at mediation. The teachers also complained that their local government employers were essentially showing a deep lack of confidence in their work that was offensive.

It proved impossible to force the teachers over to a more conventional and structured work day, and they made it clear they were prepared for a long strike. As a result, KS went along over the weekend with a proposal to keep the teachers’ existing, flexible works hours agreement in force for this school year, while a new agreement will replace it next year. It will allow for  some form of mandatory work schedules, to be agreed at the local level. If no agreement is reached, however, the teachers can appeal to the county level and they cannot be forced to accept mandatory time on campus. That allowed the teachers to prevail on their most important demand.

Teachers’ union boss Ragnhild Lied did not boast of victory at Monday morning’s press conference, but did note that “a tough but necessary strike” has yielded results. KS’ board leader Gunn Marit Helgesen stressed that the solution was arrived at together with the unions. “We have great confidence that (work schedules) can best be worked out locally,” she said, calling Monday “a joyous day” since the strike could end.

The compromise allowed for an end to the strike by the four unions Utdanningsforbundet, Skolenes landsforbund, Norsk lektorlag and Musikernes fellesorganisasjon. They will now need to obtain a “quick vote” on the compromise from their members, Lied said, but that was expected to be affirmative, allowing for teaching to resume as soon as possible.

The strike had resulted in nearly 9,000 teachers being pulled off the job at more than 200 schools around Norway. Around 100,000 elementary, intermediate and high school students have been affected. Some local principals handed out school books to the students last week, to allow them to start reading course work on their own.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund