Strike over, buses roll from noon

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Norway’s 10-day-long bus strike ended Thursday morning, after an all-night bargaining session during which the bus companies doubled their original offer. That addressed the bus drivers’ longstanding demands for higher pay, and buses were set to begin rolling again from noon.

Bus service here in Oslo and around the rest of the country was set to resume Thursday afternoon, after a lengthy strike by bus drivers was finally settled. PHOTO: Fellesforbundet

Leaders of all four trade union federations were mostly satisfied, and they thanked the public for their patience and support. “We want to thank the public and our passengers for the massive support we have experienced during the strike,” Stein Guldbrandsen, who led negotiations for the large labour group Fagforbundet, stated in a joint press release issued Thursday morning. “We have received thousands of reports from bus drivers who have told us about spontaneous messages of support, cheers and thumbs-up.”

Employers organization NHO Transport clearly registered the public’s support, also that many bus passengers opted to walk, cycle or use alternative public transport wearing face masks where they could. After a week and a half without contact, both sides accepted an invitation from state mediator Mats Wilhelm Ruland to meet again on Wednesday.

Majority ruled
That set off the new marathon negotiating session that began at 2pm and ended early Thursday morning with the settlement. “We have more than doubled the original offer from employers,” said Jim Klungnes, leader of Yrketrafikkforbundet (YTF). It remained unclear what new average salaries will be, but the goal has always been to bring them up to the average of, for example, drivers of trams and the metro in Oslo, which is nearly NOK 500,000 a year (USD 52,000).

Jørn Eggum, leader of the other large trade federation Fellesforbundet, said the settlement also includes an additional pay guarantee aimed at narrowing the gap between bus drivers’ pay and other industrial workers. They’ve lagged behind for years, especially since municipal bus service began being put out to competitive bidding (anbud) several years ago. The unions oppose the anbud system, but haven’t received enough political support for ending it, not even from the Labour Party.

Thursday’s settlement was nonetheless viewed as modest, and state broadcaster NRK reported that the union negotiators were split over whether they should accept it. A majority ultimately approved the employers’ joint offer, with 22 voting in favour and 14 against.

‘Constructive’ but ‘difficult’
NHO Transport’s chief negotiator said he was satisfied as well. “We’re glad the strike can end and that we can again transport passengers,” Jon Stordrange told NRK. He claimed the settlement was within the framework of earlier industrial settlements this year that provide basic pay hikes of around 1.7 percent.

Guldbrandsen of Fagforbundet told NRK that he was among the minority that wasn’t fully satisfied, “but the majority’s decision was an expression that this is as far as we’d come by dawn.”

Mediator Ruland called the all-night session “good and constructive but also difficult. That shows in how much time this took.” Economic issues were tough to solve, he noted, but he thinks all involved have reason to be satisfied.

More than 8,000 bus drivers were thus called back to work, with service set to resume at noon. There were likely to be delays throughout  the day but bus service from Fredrikstad in the south to Finnmark in the north would nonetheless be back on schedule well before the weekend, when a new week of autumn school holidays was due to begin.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund