Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen has called an ongoing train strike in southeastern Norway “extremely unfortunate,” but claimed this week that he had no plans to order an end to it. As commuters around Oslo struggled through another day of train cancellations, Solvik-Olsen simply urged both striking locomotive engineers and state railway NSB to settle the conflict themselves.
“I hope the two sides can get together to find a solution to the strike,” said Solvik-Olsen. “Many people are now being rammed by this. It’s extremely unfortunate.”
He stopped short, though, of opting to do what his government colleague, Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie, did Tuesday evening regarding the lengthy hospital strike. She ordered mandatory arbitration that forced striking doctors and other health care professionals back to work. While Hauglie could cite the threat posed by the strike to life and health, Solvik-Olsen can’t claim the same.
Nor will he take the initiative to impose national standards for the locomotive engineers’ training, which both they and NSB have sought. NSB balks, however, at including training requirements in the engineers’ union contract.
Regulators may help
The strike thus remained deadlocked even though Solvik-Olsen pointed to a possible solution that may be provided by Norway’s railroad authority Jernbanetilsynet. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the authority has invited all train operators in Norway to a meeting on October 27, to draft a guide on how the demands for locomotive engineers’ training can be understood.
The demands are in line with those in the entire EU/EEA, with engineers needing a license that can only be granted after professional competence and health requirements are met. Train operators can provide training but the regulators must approve it. Both Norwegian and foreign firms operating trains in Norway will be subject to the same control and system for issuance of the licenses required. It’s the prospect of foreign competition that reportedly worries the engineers the most, and they want to make sure they’ll have to meet a standard set in Norway.
Reform keep rolling, while trains don’t
Solvik-Olsen of the conservative Progress Party noted the strike was not stopping his ministry’s work to introduce more competition for train routes in Norway. He claimed safety standards will be maintained and noted that Swedish engineers already operate trains in Norway on SJ’s route between Stockholm and Oslo.
Solvik-Olsen said he believed that Jernbanetilsynet was “trying to solve the problems the locomotive engineers have taken up. All those involved will meet in a few weeks.” He claimed there was “no reason” for the strike to continue in the meantime. The engineers were skeptical, though and said they were moving ahead with a meeting on Friday, at which they may decide to expand their strike.