Record-long talks warded off strike

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After a record 22 hours of negotiations in overtime, Norway’s largest trade union federation for industrial workers finally agreed on a new labour pact with the country’s largest industrial employers’ organization. The settlement averted a major strike that would have pulled 28,000 workers off the job.

State mediator Mats Wilhelm Ruland (right) could finally announce a settlement on Saturday after marathon negotiations between Jørn Eggum (left), leader of trade union federation Fellesforbundet, and Stein Lier Hansen (center), leader of the industrial employers’ organization Norsk Industri. PHOTO: Felleforbundet

No one wanted a strike that would have further harmed business and threatened the economy after months of Corona virus-related disruption. Industrial workers will now get slightly higher pay and some improved benefits that met a key demand of at least maintaining purchasing power.

“These are tough times for our country,” stated labour leader Jørn Eggum after the settlement was announced late Friday night. He claimed that the settlement proved it’s still possible to carry out labour negotiations even during the Corona virus crisis.

Eggum also claimed his labour federation was “responsible, but not naive” after settling for less than what they’d demanded but more than the “zero” pay raises initially offered. He’ll now present the proposed agreement to union members for approval.

Sets the tone for other labour negotiations
The settlement between Eggum’s trade union federation Fellesforbundet and the employers’ organization Norsk Industri was important because it marked the first major labour negotiations of the season and thus sets the tone for negotiations in other sectors. The talks were supposed to have begun last March but that’s when Norway shut down to battle the first phase of the Corona crisis.

Negotiations were rescheduled until after the summer holidays, but broke down right at the start when Norsk Industri‘s leader, Stein Lier Hansen, declared that employers had nothing to offer. While some industrial employers have managed to stay in business during the Corona crisis, others are struggling and workers have been laid off. Those companies, Hansen argued, were in no position to offer pay raises or benefit enhancements.

Few believed there would be a strike at a time when many workers themselves are more concerned with simply hanging on to their jobs than getting raises. Eggum and other labour nonetheless insisted that workers’ purchasing power should be maintained, and argued that many of the employers have remained profitable. Their profits should be shared with those contributing to them, he argued.

Mediator helped find a solution
Their talks went quickly into voluntary and then forced mediation, with no sign of any breakthrough over the past two weeks. As local union chapters prepared for a strike last week, state mediator Mats Wilhelm Ruland kept the two sides talking and could finally announce a “solution” for the two front-runners in annual negotiations. Pay raises retroactive to April 1 will average 1.7 percent, just o.3 percent over current estimated price growth, and some benefits for offshore workers were enhanced. The government has already expanded furlough periods by up to a year and offered NOK 50 million to fund continuing education for industrial workers.

Hansen of Norsk Industri called the negotiations “demanding, largely because of the situation Norway and the rest of the world is in.” He added, however, that he could go along with the settlement as long as negotiations at the local level now take into consideration the economic and competitive situation for individual companies.

“I both hope and expect that local settlements will be moderate,” Lier Hansen told reporters, “so that jobs can be secured in the demanding times that lie ahead.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund