Trade union federations seemed intent on halting or at least disrupting major portions of daily life in Norway on Wednesday, to protest the government’s proposal to “adjust” the country’s law governing working conditions. Others claimed the unions’ so-called “political strike” is a major overreaction to efforts to modernize work rules and make it easier to enter the workforce.
It’s the first political strike to be called in Norway in 17 years and it was set to particularly hit public transportation around the country during its two-hour duration beginning at 2pm Wednesday afternoon.
Airports warned they would only allow incoming flights to land, but not take off. All train traffic would stop nationwide from 3-4pm, while metro, tram and bus lines in Oslo and Akershus, for example, would stand still from 3-3:30pm, disrupting the afternoon commuter rush.
The strike’s impact was due to vary around the country, with public transport workers in the Trondheim area, for example, striking for the full two hours with some exceptions. In Stavanger, the strike would affect some bus routes, but not all.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that it was unclear how schools and day care centers would be affected because a political strike allows various union locals to decide for themselves whether they want to take part. In some areas, though, municipal day care centers announced they would close at 2pm, meaning parents would need to pick up their children early and then attempt to travel home at a time when public transport systems may not be operating.
Both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Labour Minister Robert Eriksson have strongly objected to the labour organizations’ decision to call the political strike. They claim the proposed changes to what’s called Norway’s arbeidsmiljølov, the law governing working conditions, are merely “adjustments” to remove some of the risk of hiring new employees. That can be an incentive for employers to do more hiring, they contend.
The strike is controversial, with government officials not the only ones calling it “unnecessary.” Debate was lively on national radio Wednesday morning, with opponents claiming the labour organizations were “over-exaggerating” the possible effects of changes to Norwegian work rules. If LO and the other major trade union federations YS and Unio have felt a need to mobilize “to this degree,” argued one opponent, “it only shows that Norway has very few problems in its labour market.”
Union officials responded angrily, claiming the proposed changes amount to much more than mere “adjustments” to the law, and may allow employers to force employees to work more overtime and more weekends. The changes will also make it easier for employers to hire help on a temporary basis, without having to eventually offer permanent jobs, they contend.
Some commentators have questioned whether the strike will backfire on the labour movement, by angering Norwegians because of Wednesday’s planned disruptions. That’s a risk they’re willing to take, as they called on 1.5 million members to walk off the job.