Gerd Kristiansen, leader of Norway’s largest trade union federation LO, earns more than Prime Minister Erna Solberg, according to a new survey of labour leaders’ pay conducted by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). The million-kroner salaries paid to most all of Norway’s labour leaders were stirring discussion on Monday, just as annual pay negotiations for their members were getting underway.
DN’s survey, which was being widely cited by Norwegian media, showed that nearly all Norwegian union leaders are paid more than NOK 1 million a year, three times the average salary of their members.
Kristiansen had to defend her own relatively high annual pay of NOK 1,584,305 (USD 193,000) on Monday, as annual salary negotiations began for members of LO and the other labour federations in Norway. The timing of DN’s report was uncomfortable at best for the labour leaders, coming just after Kristiansen herself has agreed with employers’ representatives that salaries have risen too high in Norway. Workers have been told for several weeks that they can’t expect big raises this year, if any at all, because of a new degree of uncertainty in the Norwegian economy caused by the dive in oil prices.
Otherwise preaching moderation
“There won’t be any pay parties this year,” Kristiansen repeated on national radio Monday morning, because pay negotiations are taking place in “uneasy times.” She agreed with Kristin Skogen Lund, head of Norway’s largest employers’ organization NHO, that “we must have moderate pay settlements.” NHO is LO’s counterpart at the yearly wage negotiations that set the terms and the tone for local union contracts around the country.
State statistics bureau SSB has actually predicted that Nowegian wage growth will decline to half the level of last year’s record low level. Record low interest rates, with another decline widely expected later this week, can help offset the loss of a pay raise, it’s reasoned.
Meanwhile came the news that union leaders themselves are paid well, too well according to some critics. Kristiansen’s pay is higher than the NOK 1.52 million earned by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and Kristiansen defended it in part on the grounds that she receives no compensation for overtime, even though she works a lot of it. Solberg doesn’t either, though, and she arguably hasn’t had even a weekend free since she took office in the fall of 2013.
The highest-paid union leader, according to DN’s survey, is Hege Gjessing, president of the doctors’ labour organization Legeforening. She earns NOK 1,944,140 a year. Arve Bakke, leader of Fellesforbundet, earns NOK 1,351,700, YS leader Jorunn Berland earns NOK 1,226,690, Fagforbundet leader Mette Nord is paid NOK 1,144,327 and the leader of the national teachers’ union that staged a lengthy strike last year, Ragnhild Lied, earns NOK 1,130,635. Unio leader Anders Folkestad earns NOK 1,110,690.
Lucrative employment packages, too
“Yes, we have reasonably good salaries,” Kristiansen acknowledged when challenged on the pay issue during a live morning radio debate on NRK. “But we have only our pay, we don’t get overtime (pay) so we get a bit of compensation for things like that.” She conceded that most union leaders are paid “around a million kroner” a year, “but we should be, given the work hours that we have.”
Even though LO and other unions often complain about executive pay and benefits in the private sector, DN reported that Kristiansen, as LO leader, also has a lucrative employment agreement. In addition to her salary and extra pay as a union federation board member, she will receive a guaranteed pension of at least NOK 722,000 per year from age 65. Even though LO leaders can’t be re-elected after age 60, they will continue to receive full pay until pension age, in return for “remaining available” for LO. Kristiansen, originally from Northern Norway, also is provided with a car and a place to live in Oslo.
She also thinks it’s fine for herself as a leader to earn roughly three times the average salary of members. Some union leaders earn about the same as their members, such as Hans-Erik Skjæggerud, head of the pilots’ labour organization YS/Parat. Pilots who last week ended a bitter strike against Norwegian Air earn just over NOK 1 million a year on average, while Skjæggerud earns NOK 1,020,000.
The salary paid to the head of the doctors’ union is also well above the average doctor’s salary in Norway. Statistics bureau SSB placed it at just under NOK 900,000 (USD 110,000) for a doctor on staff at a Norwegian hospital and up to NOK 1.1 million for doctors who also work in the private sector. Gjessing wouldn’t comment on her pay of NOK 1.9 million, apart from to say that the president’s pay is set by the organization’s board.