Labour violations at Labour-led City Hall

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Norway’s state labour authority (Arbeidstilsynet) is launching an investigation after reports of more than 15,000 violations of labour law at several city agencies in Oslo. All of them have been under the political control of the Greens Party’s high-profile politician Lan Marie Berg and the Labour Party-led Oslo city government.

Trouble has broken out at Oslo City Hall, right when its left-green political leaders in charge are negotiating formation of a new city government. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We’re opening a case involving both the energy recycling agency EGE (Energi-gjenvinningsetaten) and the city itself based on reports of possible violations,” Bård Hogstad, an inspector at the labour authority, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. The probe comes after NRK and other Norwegian media have reported thousands of violations involving excessive overtime by employees, questionable purchasing and several other irregularities.

EGE is responsible for operations at Oslo’s four garbage-processing and recycling plants. It in turn is under the political control of Berg, the Greens politician who’s part of the top leadership coalition forming Oslo’s city government along with the Labour and Socialist Left parties. They have had majority control with the backing of the Reds party since 2015 and currently are in negotiations to continue as a coalition after gaining another majority in last month’s local elections.

While problems have surrounded garbage collection and recycling for years, NRK reported last week that more than 5,000 violations have also been revealed at the city’s water and sewage department (Vann- og avløpsetaten). The city itself has disclosed hundreds of other labour violations at the city’s fire department and rescue agency (Brann- og redningsetaten), and the parks and recreation agency (Bymiljøetaten) that’s also been in charge of city beautification projects. It has pushed through many of Berg’s pet projects including transitions from street parking to pedestrian areas and numerous new bicycle lanes.

Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, city government leader in charge of transport and environmental issues in Oslo, isn’t smiling now in the midst of investigations into thousands of violations within city departments under her political control. PHOTO: MDG

Berg is front and center in all the city agencies now under examination and has been under criticism and pressure for not having reported the problems earlier herself. She later commissioned an investigation to be carried out by the private accounting, auditing and consulting firm PwC that was supposed to delivered this week. On Wednesday the city’s environmental and transport department that Berg leads announced that the PwC report would be delayed until next week, in order to allow for more time “to solicit contradiction” of its findings.

Berg has been on the defensive for months. The labour authorities have sent their decision to investigate, however, to the city’s finance department (which has been led by the Labour Party): “They have personnel and employer responsibility for the entire city,” Hogstad told NRK. “That’s the reason we’re opening the examination there.”

The City of Oslo (Oslo kommune) has more than 53,000 employees. They’ve all been steered by the left-green city government led by Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party. News of thousands of labour-related violations is especially embarrassing for a Labour-led government, not least amidst allegations that the politicians in charge were slow in reporting them to the entire city council, or failed to report them entirely. The large public sector trade union federation representing many of the city’s employees, Fagforbundet, has also been accused of not doing a good job.

‘Watchdog sleeping on the job’
“Fagforbundet always comes out hard against these types of violatons in the private sector, not least when there’s a conservative government involved,” Øystein Sundelin, finance policy spokesman for the Conservative Party’s Oslo chapter who now sits in opposition in the city government. He accused both the unions and Labour Party officials in charge for downplaying the violations occurring now.

“If Fagforbundet is supposed to be a watchdog, then it’s a watchdog that’s been sleeping on the job,” Sundelin told newspaper Dagsavisen.

Fagforbundet’s Roger Dehlin resonded by telling Dagsavisen that even though there have been “too many” violations, “I don’t think this is a scandal.” He claimed the unions had criticized the city’s Labour- and Greens-led departments, especially for violations also found at nursing homes. “We criticize them when there’s a need for it,” he said, “but we don’t want to describe this as any mega-scandal,” noting that many employees had agreed to work excessive overtime, for example, and that various emergencies had required it.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund