More teachers and nurses go on strike

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UPDATED: More than 600 teachers, day care workers and health care professionals in Oslo have joined 7,390 others who went on strike around Norway Thursday morning, after they failed to win the pay raises they claim they deserve. Their leader admitted it’s “extra difficult” to strike in a pandemic, and stressed that Corona care would not be affected.

Steffen Handal, who led negotiations for nurses and teachers represented by trade union federation Unio, donned a T-shirt Thursday morning noting how a strike had been called. PHOTO: Unio

“The mediation we have now ended showed that KS (the organization representing local government employers) didn’t make an offer to our workers that was good enough,” said Steffen Handal, leader of the trade union federation Unio’s municipal division.

“That meant the teachers and nurses didn’t get the necessary pay raises needed to both recruit and retain these work groups in the municipal (kommunal) sector,” Handal told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday morning after talks broke down.

State mediator Torkjell Nesheim confirmed the breakdown between Unio and KS. “We were long into overtime,” Nesheim said, adding that various potential solutions didn’t work out. By late afternoon, negotiators for the City of Oslo had also failed to come to terms with more than 600 Unio members in the capital.

Corona services unaffected
The teachers, nurses and day care center workers claim their income growth has lagged behind for years. Nurses and teachers have especially won lots of public sympathy and support during the Corona crisis, but have often claimed that “applause isn’t enough.” They demand more than the 2.8 percent pay raises offered other groups during the night, which amount to no more than this year’s expected rise in the cost of living.

Three other trade union federations (LO, YS and Akademikerne) settled for raises that only maintain purchasing power, but Unio is holding out for more. Nurses and teachers in Oslo negotiated separately, but also ultimately refused to accept the city’s offer of a 2.8 percent raise.

Handal stressed that all Unio members who work with Corona testing, infection tracking and vaccinations were exempted from the strike and will continue working. “Our strike won’t affect Corona-related work,” he said. Nurses working in hospitals are also exempted since they work for the state and not local governments.

Bergen and Bærum, just west of Oslo, will be hit hardest by the strike, with many schools either shut down or partially closed not long after they’d finally been allowed to reopen after Corona-related closures. More than 1,000 Unio members in Trondheim were pulled off the job, too, affecting 18 schools and 19 day care centers.

“We’re the first to regret that we’ve landed in a strike,” Gry Camilla Tingstad, leader of the local teachers’ union in Trondheim, told NRK. “This will affect innocent third parties (in this case school children, their parents and others) and we never want that, but when our employers won’t meet our demands, this is what happens.”

Demands ‘impossible’ to meet’
KS leader Tore Arne Gangsø, who led negotiations for the municipal employers, told NRK that Unio’s demands were “impossible” to meet. “They wanted a considerably wider framework than we were able to give,” Gangsø said. “They wanted a bigger portion of the pot than what we believed is correct.”

Per Steinar Aasebø, lead negotiator for the City of Oslo, also refused to go beyond a 2.8 percent raise. “It’s of course unfortunate that we didn’t manage to reach agreement,” Aasebø told NRK Thursday afternoon. He claimed that it was not economically defensible to offer bigger raises.

As many as 20,000 public sector workers could have been called out on a strike that even some labour federation officials worry can harm Norway’s long tradition of smaller unions falling into line with agreements struck by the biggest federations and industrial groups. In this case, LO settled for raises of just 2.7 percent earlier this year, which may have prodded LO and the two other trade union federations YS and Akademikerne, into settling during the night for 2.8 percent raises. That’s equivalent to between NOK 10,000 and NOK 22,000 (USD 1,205-2,650) more per year depending on salary level.

Such raises weren’t enough for the 7,390 nurses and teachers now on strike from Agder in the south to Alta in the north. Their trade union organization Unio (called “Confederation of Unions for Professionals” in English) also represents a wide range of other workers including researchers, accountants, librarians, police, marine engineers, physiotherapists and members of the clergy in Norway.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund