Nurses, teachers threaten strikes

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Nurses, teachers and other public sector workers at the municipal level are all demanding pay raises this spring that represent real wage growth after one of the toughest years they’ve ever had. If they fail to come to terms in May, they’re ready to launch major strikes nationwide.

Intensive care nurses are among those gearing up for tough wage negotiations over the next several weeks. PHOTO: Helse Bergen/Katrine Sunde

It’s a huge dilemma, especially for the nurses and teachers, since they’re acutely aware that a strike during the ongoing Corona crisis could hurt those they care most about: their patients and students. Since the nurses especially are considered critical for life and health, the government could intervene and order them back to work.

The problem is that they’re sick and tired themselves of earning relatively low wages in a high-cost country, year after year. The recent applause and even royal recognition they’ve received during the past Corona year doesn’t pay the rent, and their salaries won’t qualify them for mortgages.

Teachers have also been on the front line during the Corona crisis, dealing with enormous uncertainty and having to constantly maneuver between teaching remotely from their homes or suddenly being called back into the classroom. They’re tired, too, while the general public has arguably come to appreciate the value of both professions more than ever.

They’re thus determined to hold out for the raises they’ve sought for years and feel they’ve earned. “We’ve been the earnings losers for too long,” Carl Hellstenius Heuch, a 5th grade teacher in Bærum who’s a member of the teachers’ union Utdanningsforbundet, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday. “Now we hope that we’ll get recognition for the important jobs we do.”

At the same time there’s a “dramatic” lack of both teachers and nurses, and higher salaries could attract more to their professions. They feel cheated that they came out much worse than the private sector in wage negotiations last year, with raises of just 1.7 percent. Now they want more than 3 percent, not least since the expected cost of living is expected to rise by 2.8 percent this year.

Key industries that led off wage negotiations earlier this year ended up settling for 2.7 percent, after the national employers’ organization NHO had initially offered just 2.2 percent. That was supposed to set the tone for negotiations in other sectors, but neither the teachers, the nurses nor public sector administrative staff think it’s nearly enough. One union representative told NRK Wednesday morning that the willingness to go out on strike from May 27 is “the strongest” he’d ever seen.

Tor Arne Gangsø, leader of the public sector employers’ organization KS, stresses that municipalities have had a tough year, too, with budgets tight. Taxpayers can’t be expected to finance raises any bigger than the private sector received. He thinks bigger raises could, however, be negotiated locally based on individual municipalities’ financial situation.

The trade union federations involved in the negotiations (Unio, LO kommune, YS kommune and Akademikerne) have until May 1st to reach an agreement with KS. If not, they’ll go into mediation, with a strike deadline set for midnight May 26th.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund