New work rules set to halt flights

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Political opponents and labour organizations are so upset over looming changes in Norwegian work rules that one union, representing airline cabin crews, vows to halt airline flights for an hour on Tuesday afternoon. The new rules would allow employers expanded use of temporary workers and force recipients of unemployment benefits to perform civil service.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Robert Eriksson announced the government's changes to labour laws on Wednesday. They included more flexibility over Sunday hours, longer shifts, more overtime and temporary staffing. Employer organizations had long called for many of the measures, but unions and many opposition political parties denounced the changes. PHOTO: Øyvinn Myge/ASD/Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

Labour Minister Robert Eriksson isn’t giving up his effort to provide employers with fewer restrictions on temporary staffing. Employer organizations have long called for more flexibility, but unions and several political parties oppose the changes. PHOTO: Øyvinn Myge/ASD/Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

“In order to get politicians in all the parties in Parliament to understand how serious this will be, we will ground all flights at all of the largest airports in the country on Tuesday December 9 between 1pm and 2pm,” Vegard Einan of the flight attendants’ union Parat.

Einan claimed that the new law proposed by Labour Minister Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party will have such “dramatic consequences” that “it’s time the politicians wake up.”

He claimed that expanded use of temporary (midlertidig) employees, at the expense of full-time permanent jobs, will create great uncertainty for workers at a wide range of Norwegian companies, not just airlines. Therefore his union will call 3,500 of Parat members out on a “political strike” next week.

Einan said the union chose to target the airline industry because it’s a sector “where we have experience with the consequences that temporary employment can have.”  He claimed that workers with permanent job contracts and secure positions dare to speak up when they see dangerous conditions at the workplace. “Temporary workers don’t do that, because they’re afraid it will jeopardize their jobs,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

The Labour Party, the Socialist Left (SV) and Norway’s large trade union confederations LO and YS have also objected strongly to Eriksson’s proposal to ease restrictions on employers. “The proposal from the government that will let employers freely use temporary employees won’t create more jobs, just more uncertainty for many workers,” claimed LO’s boss, Gerd Kristiansen.

Aiming for more flexibility and simplification
Eriksson, however, argues that around 600,000 people are locked out of the workforce in Norway, around half of them on disability. He contends that they could more easily get jobs if employers were allowed to hire them on a temporary basis to see how they perform, before having to commit to offering them full-time positions. Eriksson also wants to simplify various unemployment benefits programs at state welfare agency NAV and require welfare recipients to perform various jobs in return for their unemployment benefits, unless they physically unable to work.

He sent the government’s proposal to Parliament on Friday, prompting the latest wave of protests to it. Eriksson said he had “grown used to hearing that many disagree” with the government’s attempts to ease restrictions on employers, but he thinks it’s too bad that many travelers will now suffer on Tuesday.

“We live in a democracy and strikes are legal,” Eriksson said, “but I think it’s very stupid that Parat (the flight attendants’ union) will hurt ordinary folks in this way.” Parat said it planned to disrupt flights from airports in Bodø, Tromsø, Trondheim, Bergen and Oslo on Tuesday.

It’s highly unclear whether the government’s proposal will get through Parliament, though. Not only are Labour and several other parties opposed, so are the government’s own support parties. The Christian Democrats worried that the new law ignored the challenges in the health care and education sectors, where workers can be stuck on temporary contracts without being offered permanent jobs. The Liberal Party also wants to alter Eriksson’s propsal, and require that employers can only keep workers on temporary contracts for two years, instead of the current four.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund