Labour talks stalled at the very start

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Norway’s most important annual labour negotiations had to be postponed last spring when the Corona crisis hit and the country shut down. When they finally resumed this week, the talks that set the tone for wage earners all over the country broke down after just an hour.

This was the scene when labour leader Jørn Eggum (left) and industrial employers’ leader Stein Lier-Hansen (right) faced off at the formal launch of annual negotiations in March. The Corona crisis shut Norway down two days later, postponing the resumption of talks until this week, when they immediately broke down. Now the state mediator will try to help them settle pay and other work issues. PHOTO: Fellesforbundet/John Trygve Tollefsen

“This year we have nothing to give,” claimed Stein Lier-Hansen, leader of the national organization representing industrial employers, Norsk Industri. “We really need pay reductions in Norway, in order to build up our com-petitiveness.

“I hope our counterparts have a version of reality that’s in line with the facts.”

Both Leir-Hansen and his chief counterpart Jørn Eggum, leader of the country’s major trade union federation for industrial workers (Fellesforbundet), expected tough negotiations when they sat down at the negotiating table on Monday. Eggum isn’t inclined to accept what’s called a nulloppgjør (literally, zero deal): “I don’t think anyone thinks that will happen,” Eggum told state broadcaster NRK after talks didn’t even proceed long enough to require a coffee break.

After months of Corona chaos that’s shut down many businesses and resulted in thousands of layoffs, Eggum has acknowledged that Norwegian industrial firms are in a difficult position. At the same time, however, many are still doing well and recent tax relief granted to the oil companies is expected to prompt new orders at oil supply and service firms.

Eggum’s labour organization has lowered its expectations but is still demanding that workers at least maintain their current purchasing power. Fellesforbundet doesn’t want prices to climb higher than wages do.

“There’s no doubt that we’ll make sure these negotiations don’t result in the employers and capitalists owning them taking out big dividends while we’re expected to show moderation” he told NRK.

Both sides had a meeting with the state mediator (Riksmegleren) already on Tuesday, in an effort to move forward, and voluntary mediation is now underway. This year’s negotiations are known as a hovedoppgjør, meaning they involve not just wages but also working conditions, hours, benefits, welfare leave and overtime terms. An eventual settlement will form the framework for all other negotiations in various labour sectors.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund