UPDATED: Around 170 train departures were cancelled Thursday morning after locomotive engineers went on strike against state railway NSB. More are expected in the coming days, while NSB also announced plans to cut 300 jobs with management and administration.
Worst hit are busy passenger lines around the Oslo area, leaving thousands of commuters with no other way to get to work than to drive their own cars. State broadcaster NRK reported heavy traffic on the roads into Oslo Thursday, as thousands did exactly what city politicians don’t want them to do: drive. City leaders are keen to all but force commuters over to public transportation systems, but a strike like the one now underway can spoil such plans quickly.
A total of 71 engineers were called off the job from 6am, 66 of them working in the southeastern region of Norway known as Østlandet. A majority of the engineers are based in Lillestrøm, Ski and Oslo, so the strike will affect commuters from those areas the most. Union officials said later on Thursday that the strike will be expanded, with more engineers pulled off the job, if there is no return to negotiations.
No alternative transport provided
Since the strike is legal, NSB is unable to set up emergency bus service to replace the idled trains. NSB normally offers alternative bus service when train service is disrupted by technical trouble or weather, but doing so now would be viewed as attempts at strike-busting. Nor can NSB ask Flytoget, the airport express train, to allow stranded commuters to travel with it. The airport train is a run by a separate train company and not affected by the strike.
Many workers were likely to work from home or cram themselves onto the few trains that would be running as normal. Commuters on the heavily used Ski-Skøyen-Stabekk and Lillestrøm-Spikkestad lines were facing the biggest challenges.
“Local and regional trains are still operating, but there will be fewer departures,” NSB spokesman Håkon Myhre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) early Thursday. “There are already many people at the stations, though, and it’s quite full on these trains. When we have to cancel trains, others will be extra full. We ask the public for patience.”
Commuters are the so-called “innocent third party” in the conflict between NSB and its locomotive engineers. They’re represented in labour negotiations by employers’ organization Spekter and LO Stat/Norsk Lokomotivmannsforbund (NLF), but talks broke down during the night over national standards for locomotive engineer training.
“The reason for the breakdown was that we think a national standard is necessary to ensure safety,” Rolf Ringdal, leader of the trade union federation NLF. Spekter had another view: “We’re sorry that NLF chose to go out on strike because they didn’t succeed with their demands regarding changes in competence requirements for locomotive engineers,” said Spekter’s communications director Gunnar Larsen.
NSB and Spekter believe competence requirements must be regulated by state authorities, while the unions want more say in standards set and have them made part of labour contracts. Neither side could say how long the strike might last. NSB promised it would constantly update lists of cancellations on its website (external link) and inform passengers about the status of the strike. Little if any information was available in English, though, as of early Thursday morning.
Job cuts loom
NSB also announced later on Thursday that its passenger train division must cut around 300 jobs in connection with the state railroad reform underway with increased competition. NSB will need to bid for route operations along with other players and its CEO Geir Isaksen said the railway therefore must become “a slimmer organization” by the end of 2018.
The cuts will be made with management, administration and other support functions. Isaksen said he hopes most of the jobs can be eliminated through attrition to avoid layoffs.
“This is a tough decision for NSB,” Isaksen stated in a press release. “We are now in the midst of one of the most demanding reorganizations in NSB’s history, and this (staff cuts) is a move we need to make now.” Other divisions within NSB are being spun off, including those handling real estate, train maintenance, sales and ticketing.