Some but not all of the striking municipal workers around Norway were being ordered back to work late Friday afternoon. Labour Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Conservative Party determined that the strike posed a threat to life and health, a stance strike leaders strongly disputed.
Isaksen called trade union federation Unio and the national organization for municipal employers, KS, into a meeting Friday afternoon. Around an hour later the government confirmed that it was proposing forced mediation to settle the strike.
“The meeting showed that it wasn’t possible for the two sides to find a solution in this acute situation,” Isaksen said. The “concrete threat” allegedly posed by the strike apparently involved the risk of a major fire at a garbage processing facility in Fredrikstad.
“We’re stepping in … because of a very serious situation where fire fighters, supported by the state directorate for safety and preparedness, believe the risk of a serious fire looms,” Isaksen said.
Others disputed the alleged risk. “I think its very unfortunate that the government is stepping into this labour conflict, and sad that the municipal employers won’t solve the underlying problems here,” Steffen Handal, leader of Unio, told state broadcaster NRK.
Unio and several unions within its federation have refused to accept 2.8 percent pay raises offered by KS. The return-to-work order won’t, however, affect ongoing strikes in Oslo or strikes by health care workers because they’re covered under separate tariff areas.