Norway’s biggest hotel has closed its doors, guests have been forced to relocate against their will and one hotel manager took it upon himself to serve breakfast to 170 people Sunday morning. Negotiations between thousands of striking hotel workers and their employers were deadlocked on Monday, with no settlement in sight.
“No, we’re not talking about anything right now,” Jørn Eggum, leader of the hotel and restaurant workers’ trade union federation Fellesforbundet, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. Instead there were reports that more hotels would soon be forced to close and that the strike was more likely to spread.
The major hotel and restaurant strike that broke out in Norway over the weekend targeted 363 hotels, restaurants and public- and private sector employee canteens all over the country. Rogaland County on Norway’s West Coast, where hotels and restaurants have been suffering because of cutbacks in the area’s important oil and offshore industries, seems to have been spared. Other areas where tourism has boomed because of Norway’s weak krone were targeted, though, with the unions demanding that the good times be shared with their lowest-paid hotel and restaurant workers.
Demands also include a new collective bargaining system that would allow unions at the local level to negotiate for higher pay or benefits in addition to what’s agreed at the national level. That’s common in other business and industrial sectors in Norway, but the hotel employers’ organization NHO Reiseliv is resisting and wants to maintain the existing system. One NHO spokesman told NRK Monday morning that NHO doesn’t think a system with local bargaining rights, which could give workers additional pay and benefits in line with local needs or conditions, would function well. NHO claims that after workers already had secured a central settlement, “there would be nothing left locally.”
That left the prospects dim for any quick settlement to the first hotel and restaurant workers strike in several years. Eggum claims his union members are not making any unreasonable demands: “This strike is about employers who won’t grant the most important requests: the opportunity to negotiate directly with one’s employer, the opportunity to improve working conditions for our everyday heroes who clean up after us, work around the clock and only earn 77 percent of that paid to an industrial worker.”
Among hotels closing their doors after the strike broke out were the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel in Oslo, Norway’s largest, and Radisson Blu’s Scandinavia Hotel in Oslo and Royal Garden in Trondheim. Massimo Braga and his family from Milan, Italy were among 300 guests forced to pack up and leave the Plaza Hotel on Sunday morning and he was not pleased.
“Now we’re being moved to (another Radisson hotel at) Nydalen, which is 20 minutes away from the city center by metro,” Braga, who had chosen the downtown Plaza Hotel because of its central location, told NRK. “So we’re a bit angry about that.” His family, only in Oslo for three days, was also unhappy that they lost at least half their day because of the relocation. “We had planned to visit the National Gallery, but now we’re having to use our time to pack our bags and move up to Nydalen,” he said.
Hotel manager donned an apron
At the Best Western Karl Johan Hotel in downtown Oslo, hotel manager Leiv Roda took over breakfast-serving duties while his workers set up picket lines outside. He said the strike puts him in a difficult situation: “We want to take care of our guests, but support our employees at the same time,” Roda, wearing an apron, told NRK. Guests seemed to be understanding, grateful for being fed and also supporting relatively low-paid hotel workers, who one guest said “deserve to be heard.”
Strikers said they were motivated to hold out as long as necessary, even after new members of the unions were threatened with losing their jobs by the management of the Farris Bad hotel and spa in Larvik, southwest of Oslo. That set off a new conflict, but NHO claimed the hotel was within its rights.
As more hotels were closing on Monday, for lack of sufficient staffing, Radisson asked guests holding reservations “in the near future” to contact the hotels for assistance in obtaining alternative accommodation. “We truly regret any convenience this may cause,” wrote Radisson on its websites for the hotels, adding that they would reopen “as soon as the strike is called off.”