Nurses want more than applause

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Norwegian nurses been flattered by applause from the public, praise in the media and even a video greeting of gratitude last week from Queen Sonja. That doesn’t pay the rent, though, and Norway’s national nurses’ union isn’t ruling out a strike this fall if their pay growth declines.

Nurses working in the intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients at Oslo University Hospital. Their pay growth is only set to rise by 1.5 percent this year, and the national nurses’ union is not pleased. PHOTO: OUS/Anders Bayer

“We expect a wage settlement that reflects the critical function we perform and the responsibility and competence nurses have,” Lill Sverresdatter Larsen, the new leader of Norsk Sykepleierforbund (NSF), told state broadcaster NRK. The labour organization she leads represents nearly 120,000 nurses around the country.

After being on the frontline of the Corona virus battle, Larsen was disappointed to learn that the revised state budget for 2020 lowered prospective pay growth this year from 3.6 percent to just 1.5 percent. Since implementation of last year’s  modest increase was delayed and has run into this year, it stands to effectively negate the reduced growth goal set for this year.

“That implies either zero pay growth or, in the worst case, a net reduction for our members,” Larsen told NRK. “We won’t accept that.”

Gratitude should lead to higher pay
The lag effect from last year’s wage settlement threatens to prevent any “fresh money” from being offered this year. It’s frustrating at a time when the work performed by nurses in Norway, and around the world, is otherwise winning lots of attention and respect.

The national nurses’ leader thinks the gratitude shown by the public should translate into better pay and working conditions in a profession that’s chronically low-paid and secure full-time positions are scarce. The vast majority of nurses are only offered part-time work at hospitals in Norway.

Queen Sonja sent a video greeting of gratitude to Norway’s nurses on the occasion of their national day on May 12, which would have been Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. The queen noted that “in these (Corona) times, we’ve been strongly reminded of how important you nurses are!” PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff

“It’s important that nurses receive meaningful acknowledgment for their competence and the important job they do,” Larsen told the nurses national trade journal Sykepleien. “I think most now see (in the midst of the Corona crisis) how much society relies on good health care and adequate resources, both in terms of equipment and qualified personnel, to give folks the necessary help both under normal circumstances and in crises like now.”

Larsen stressed that she wasn’t promoting a strike, and she hoped negotiations that have been postponed until after the summer holidays will result in an acceptable pay offer.

“If we don’t reach an agreement, we’ll need to go into mediation,” she said. A strike would be the last resort, during which state officials may order the nurses back to work if the strike threatens public health and human life.

Nurses in Norway currently earn an average of NOK 544,000 (USD 54,000) if employed full time, which few are. Health Minister Bent Høie is also under pressure to improve pay and working conditions for nurses, who’ve been working under especially difficult circumstances in hospitals’ intensive care wards for Covid-19 patients.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund