UPDATED: After making more threats they they’d expand their strike this week, locomotive engineers working for Norway’s state railway NSB were gearing for a new meeting at the national mediator’s office on Tuesday. They announced Monday morning that they were having some “new thoughts” and were preparing a proposal for a possible settlement.
The news came after another difficult morning for an estimated 20,000 commuters in the Oslo area, who have faced major problems getting back and forth to work. Buses are packed and highways clogged, as many commuters had to resort to the expensive option of driving into the city.
With the strike deadlocked, the labour organization representing the engineers (Norsk Lokomotivemannsforbund) had threatened as late as Friday to expand their strike once again this week. The move would pull more engineers off the Sørlandsbanen line that runs from Oslo to Kristiansand and Stavanger.
Union leader Rolf Ringdal told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), though, that he and his fellow engineers were “thinking in new ways” and would likely put forth a proposed solution to management at NSB sometime Monday evening. “It will be both new and different,” Ringdal told NRK. “At the same time, we are being very clear that our demands for competence must be addressed.” The strike has centered on a conflict over whether a national standard for locomotive engineers’ training should be inserted into their labour contracts.
The engineers’ new proposal for a settlement was ultimately delivered late Monday. After some “written communication” between the locomotive engineers and Spekter, which is the employers’ organization representing NSB, the two sides agreed to a meeting at midday Tuesday at the office of the national mediator (Riksmegleren). Ringdal noted that then “things can go fast, when you first have a basis for a meeting to discuss things.”
Motivation was strong on both sides to end the strike that has affected so many train passengers, not least at a time when government officials at all levels are trying to get people out of their cars and on board public transportation to cut carbon emissions.
NSB, meanwhile, has been clear that it won’t commit to anything new that would leave it with higher labour costs at a time of railroad and railway reform that involves tougher competition. NSB will need to bid to operate train lines against other operators, also from abroad, and needs to be able to compete against foreign competition.