Long lines and delays for both arriving and departing international passengers at Norway’s gateway airport, OSL Gardermoen, have prompted Justice Minister Anders Anundsen to send in reinforcements. The police assigned to such border patrol duty, however, immediately complained that 14 new positions ordered by Anundsen over the weekend aren’t enough.
“No, this won’t help when you see how this airport is exanding,” Steinar Dyrbye, team leader for border patrol at OSL, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. He thinks there’s a need for more than 14 new officers, especially after OSL’s new terminals open next spring.
Jan Arne Kongsmo, leader of the local chapter of the police officers’ union, agreed. “Many more positions are needed to solve the challenges (OSL) Gardermoen faces,” Kongsmo told NRK.
Passenger traffic through OSL has exploded in recent years, in line with lower airfares and increased affluence among the traveling public. The “airport for the next millennium,” which opened in 1998 to replace Oslo’s and Norway’s former main airport at Fornebu, was already overburdened after just 10 years, and plans began for a major terminal expansion. Construction has proceeded on time and under budget, and the OSL is due to start opening the new facilities in April.
Meanwhile, passengers landing at OSL who come from countries outside the so-called “Schengen” area of the EU have had to endure long waits to present passports and answer the border police officers’ questions. NRK reported that some stood in line for up to three hours this past weekend, prompting Justice Minister Anundsen to order the state police to immediately assign 10 new passport control officer to handle the crowds as of Monday. Four more officers are due to be in place within the week.
Anundsen blamed much of the problem on the leadership of Norway’s new eastern police district, Øst, which has OSL Gardemoen within its portfolio. Anundsen claimed that Øst’s leadership has simply not handled sick leave and vacation leave well enough, leading to severe staff shortages. Anundsen was also irritated that police on duty last Friday had reportedly blamed political leadership, telling frustrated passengers to “call Erna” (Prime Minister Erna Solberg) to register their complaints after the office that issues emergency passports to Norwegians who need them closed for around an hour because of the staffing shortage.
“This is a case of shirking responsibility,” Anundsen told NRK. “All police chiefs want more money and better staffing, but it’s the police chiefs’ responsibility to set priorities within their work portfolios, not to blame others.”
Audun Martinsen, who represents police employees at OSL, insisted the long lines and delays were not the result of any organized labour protest among police officers who’ve reportedly been forced to work long shifts without breaks. Martinsen acknowledged the justice minister’s criticism but also defended Øst’s police chief, Jon Steven Hasseldal.
“The police chief of Øst and the former police chief for Romerike (where OSL is located, north of the Oslo) have not had the budget to do what’s needed to get border patrol at (OSL) Gardermoen up to a functional level,” Martinsen told NRK. “What we’re seeing now is the effect of tight budgets, low staffing and what happens with people who work under huge pressure for too long, and where health and safety rules are set aside for the sake of production.”