Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen had been under pressure to step in and halt a train strike that was about to enter its sixth week. On Sunday, both striking locomotive engineers and state railway NSB finally asked for his government’s help, and Solvik-Olsen responded quickly to end the conflict.
Under state law, the government can generally only intervene and order strikers back to work if there’s danger to life and health. That’s been difficult to justify in the case of the train strike, even though it made daily life difficult for around 20,000 commuters in the Oslo area.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), noting on Friday that the state could also step in if “vital community interests” were in danger, editorialized that it was in the community interests that folks could get to work. While the striking locomotive engineers pondered expanding the strike even more over the weekend, newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized that Solvik-Olsen was being too passive and should take an initiative to get the trains rolling again.
At issue was the alleged lack of a national standard for locomotive engineers’ competence in Norway. They wanted one inserted into their labour contracts, also to ensure that foreign operators who may win routes in Norway as part of national reforms would also have to abide by it. State railway NSB wouldn’t agree, claiming that competence was a matter for the state authorities to determine.
It wasn’t until Sunday that both sides in the conflict finally sent official word to Solvik-Olsen, after another session with national mediator Nils Dalseide, that they needed his help. Spekter, the employers’ organization representing NSB, said Solvik-Olsen responded quickly and the strike was thus called off.
Dalseide said it was “critical” that both sides agreed to ask state authorities to contribute to drafting a new national standard. Both NSB and the engineers’ union Norsk Lokomotivmannsforbund were suddenly satisfied.
It will take time, however, to get all the trains rolling on schedule again. While NSB could finally offer alternative bus service until trains were back on track without being accused of strike-busting, officials said regular service wasn’t expected until Tuesday. Commuters in the Oslo area were advised to continue using alternative forms of transport to work on Monday.
Meanwhile, commentators were citing a new survey by research organization Fafo showing that Norway, for all its state welfare programs and relatively harmonious labour conditions, ranks third in Western Europe for having the highest number of strike days every year, behind only France and Denmark. This autumn has been particularly disruptive, despite third-party negotiations involving employees’ unions, employers and state authorities. Most strikes involve public sector employees, leaving the public itself suffering.
Norway’s liberal think tank Civita has proposed limiting the right to strike among public sector employees. “There’s reason to respect both the doctors, locomotive engineers and other employees who fight for their own interests,” wrote Citiva leader Kristin Clemet, a former justice minister for the Conservative Party, in newspaper Aftenposten on Sunday. “But they fight for their interests, not everyone’s interests, and therefore shouldn’t be able to hurt so many, so long in such an unreasonable manner as they often do.”