Settlement averts massive strike

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There was a collective sigh of relief in Norway on Sunday, after the country’s employers’ organization NHO and two of its largest trade union federations finally came to terms, 15 hours after a strike deadline had passed. The strike would have called 35,000 workers off the job and crippled everything from bus and ferry transport to offshore and food production.

State mediator Nils Dalseide (center) finally coaxed employers and labour leaders into a settlement after 15 hours of overtime talks during the weekend. PHOTO: Norsk Industri/Cathrine W Eidal

“We have sat together through the night and until now, on the basis that the two sides were willing to cooperate and find a solution,” state mediator Nils Dalseide could finally announce late Sunday afternoon. “Despite strong, conflicting interests, we have succeeded.”

The trade union federations LO and YS lost their effort to allow workers to accrue pension contributions from the first krone they earn, but they preserved rights to retire early at an age of 62. A loophole that had stripped workers of early retirements rights if they became ill and went on disability just before turning 62 was also closed.

Workers also won minimum pay raises of 2.8 percent, which should result in a rise in purchasing power. Settlements were also reached regarding how workers can be compensated for travel expenses when sent outside their home areas on assignment.

LO leader Hans-Christian Gabrielsen said the settlement provides a foundation for a new “sustainable” early retirement program. Kristin Skogen Lund, the head of NHO who has been the target of detailed press coverage over the relatively generous terms of her own pension, claimed that the settlement was “within a responsible economic framework.”

Lund also claimed that everyone involved in the mediation that began last week “maintained a civilized tone” throughout the marathon negotiations, “and we’ll be able to move forward after all this.” She may still face a political fight in Parliament, however, on the early retirement issue, with the Labour Party expected to propose a new law that would require employers to make pension contributions for all employees as soon as they begin in their jobs.

Everyone around the table, meanwhile, was relieved that a strike was avoided. It would have shut down many bakeries and other food producers, brought all bus traffic in Oslo, Stavanger and Drammen to a standstill, affected North Sea oil production and halted ferries around the country. It would have been the first mass strike in Norway in 18 years.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund