Low-paid hospital staff go out on strike

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Mediation broke down during the night between hospital administrators and unions representing mostly non-medical hospital personnel who’ve been seeking better pensions. The unions thus pulled nearly 500 hospital workers out on strike from Wednesday morning.

“We think it’s bloody unfair that the lowest-paid personnel in (Norwegian state-run) hospitals aren’t able to get pension benefits based on all of the money they earn, only a portion of it,” claimed Odd-Haldgeir Larsen, deputy leader of the labour federation Fagforbundet, which represents hospital staff including clerical workers, cleaning crews and transport of both patients and supplies.

Larsen said on NRK’s national radio stations Wednesday morning that 75 percent of those with the lowest pay are women, and they’ll only have around NOK 300,000 (USD 35,000) invested in their public sector pension plans when they actually retire. He noted that many of those represented only work part-time, and the unions want better pension benefits also for those working less than 20 percent.

“It really provokes us that the hospitals are denying some employees the fundamental security that’s supposed to go along with a pension system,” claimed Lizzie Ruud Thorkildsen, who led negotiations for hospital staff organized in another labour organization, YS Spekter. “It would cost the hospitals so little, but mean a lot for the individual employee.”

Herlof Nilssen, a hospital administrator involved in the negotiations, disagreed, calling it “extremely unfortunate” that the unions opted to strike over pension demands “that exceed what the Parliament has decided should apply for state workers.” He said the improved pension benefits would cost the hospitals around NOK 100 million a year.

Larsen said between 6,000 and 10,000 employees face the problem of only being offered part-time work and lower pensions as a result. As a result, 493 union members were taken out on strike from Oslo University Hospital, St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, health care administration in Bergen and Sørlandet Hospital in Kristiansand. Erik Vigander, communications for Helse Bergen, told NRK that the strike will affect operations at Haukeland Hospital, because of reduced staffing for transport of patients, cleaning and administrative work such as appointment scheduling.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund