‘Political strike’ set for Wednesday

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Norway’s major trade union federations are moving ahead with plans for a widespread political strike on Wednesday, to demonstrate their unhappiness over the conservative government’s proposed changes in work rules. The unions intend to disrupt public transport and daily life nationwide.

PHOTO: LO

Norwegian labour leaders Jorunn Berland of trade union federation YS (left), Gerd Kristiansen of LO and Anders Folkestad of Unio are warning members of the Norwegian Parliament against approving the government’s proposed changes to the law governing working conditions in Norway. They’re spearheading a two-hour political strike on Wednesday, but the government also has lots of support. PHOTO: LO

All trains, for example, will grind to a halt just before the afternoon commuter rush on Wednesday. State railway NSB has already warned that its union members won’t work between 3pm and 4pm. No alternative transportation will be offered, to avoid strike-busting charges.

Union members are instead urged to attend rallies due to take place Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø. The strike, scheduled to last from 2pm to 4pm on Wednesday, will involve an estimated 1.5 million members of unions attached to the labour federations LO, YS and Unio, which represent a wide range of workers in both the private and public sectors.

Fighting efforts to ease work rules
The labour movement is protesting the government’s proposed changes to the law called arbeidsmiljøloven, which regulates working conditions in Norway. Labour leaders claim the changes will raise the risk of more forced overtime and more weekend work, and allow employers to hire more temporary workers instead of offering them full-time jobs. Labour leaders also fear a decline in job protection for those already in full-time positions, and claim the changes will shift more power to employers at the expense of employees.

Others, including many of the unions’ own members, disagree and claim the work rules changes can instead create more jobs and provide more flexibility for both employees and employers. The latter, it’s believed, may be inclined to hire more people if they don’t have to commit to offering full-time positions at the outset. Some workers, especially in the health care sector, welcome the possibility to work shifts longer than the standard seven to eight hours, in return for having more time off on other days. A recent survey showed that fully 86 percent of workers in the information technology sector welcome the changes, which would also raise mandatory retirement age from 70 to 72, for those who want to keep working longer.

Unions accused of overreacting
The government was prepared for criticism but Labour Minister Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party claims the labour movement has overreacted. “No one should be surprised that we’re following through on what we campaigned for (liberalizing the labour market),” Eriksson told news bureau NTB recently. He claims the Norwegian labour market needs to be modernized: “We’re doing this to ensure a secure, flexible and family-friendly work environment.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party has objected mightily to the planned strike, claiming that there’s no reason for it. “The Norwegian people have voted for this,” she told newspaper Klassekampen when the strike was first announced late last year. “I must advise the labour movement against painting such a frightening picture of the government’s policies, and using up all its arsenal now.”

Counter warnings
LO leader Gerd Kristiansen suggested to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Friday that she and her fellow labour leaders have plenty of ammunition left, with more demonstrations likely later this spring. She wouldn’t detail any firm plans, however.

“We’re warning the Parliament in the strongest of terms against approving the proposed changes,” Kristiansen told NTB earlier. “They will harm the fundamental security of Norwegian work life. Norwegian workers want secure, permanent jobs.”

The labour lobby is directing its efforts especially at the small Liberal Party (Venstre), one of the government’s two support parties which has backed the work rules changes so far. The government depends on support from the Liberals to win a majority in Parliament.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund