More than 20,000 public sector employees, many of them teachers and nurses, are now on strike in Norway after municipal employers refused to take the initiative for renewed negotiations. The teachers and nurses especially can claim public support even after, or perhaps because of, a difficult Corona year.
Many schools and day care centers all over the country were closed again on Wednesday, and not because of Corona restrictions this time. Teachers are tired of having much lower income growth, as much as 14 percent less by some calculations, than other municipal employees. So are nurses, who continue to claim that their pay is so low that it’s difficult to recruit young people to the profession.
That prompted their union leaders to follow through with warnings just before the weekend that they’d pull another 13,370 members off the job. More than 7,000 teachers, nurses, librarians, researchers and other professionals had already gone on strike last week.
“This is a conflict we just have to deal with,” school administrator Espen Irving Riiser in Tønsberg told state broadcaster NRK Wednesday morning. “Nearly all our teachers are called out on strike and then it’s not possible to maintain a reasonable level of instruction.” All schools in Tønsberg had to close, also in Porsgrunn father to the south.
“We’re sorry about this, but a strike is part of how our society works,” Riiser said. The strike also shut most day care centers and schools in cities like Ålesund on Norway’s northwestern coast, where one family with three children had to call in grandparents to mind the kids. In Bergen, 29 schools were completely closed, while 35 others were partially closed. Most all city-run day care centers were closed, too. Random live interviews of high school students and other residents in Trondheim revealed support for the teachers, not least after a challenging year of constantly changing rules and both in-class and home instruction.
The municipal employers’ organization KS disputes the low pay-growth complaints and claims raises have been “good” and in line with competence levels. KS leader Tor Arne Gangsø has claimed that its members (the local governments in charge of their area’s schools and health care) can’t go along with Unio’s demands. Unio leader Steffen Handal insists they can.
Some teachers who belong to different unions that recently settled for 2.8 percent raises are angry and defecting from Norway’s largest trade union federation, LO, over to Unio. They note how teachers with 10 years of experience earn around NOK 550,000 (USD 66,000), a relatively low salary in high-cost Norway, even after their latest raise.