Nurses already out on strike at the local level were joined Friday by 607 nurses working in various state-controlled hospitals around Norway. Mediation between their unions and employers organization Spekter failed, pulling nurses and other health care workers off the job at several large hospitals around the country.
The first phase of the strike affects staffing at Oslo University Hospital, Ahus in Lørenskog, Helse Bergen, St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Sykehust Østfold, the University Hospital Northern Norway in Tromsø and Martina Hansens Hospital in Bærum.
The nurses’ union, Norsk Sykepleier-forbund, was joined by those also representing physiotherapists, radiologists and medical researchers, among others. “We always view a strike as the last resort,” said the leader of the nurses’ union Lill Sverresdatter Larsen, “but the employers gave us no other choice. They have a responsibility to make sure the public has access to who they need within health care personnel, now and in the future.”
The nurses are mostly weary of chronically low pay, difficulty getting full-time permanent positions and poor recruitment to the profession. As they’ve said many times during the past year, they appreciate applause from the public for their hard work and care especially during the Corona crisis, but applause doesn’t help them pay their bills.
The only issue on the table during this year’s round of labour negotiations is pay. Larsen and her colleagues have long warned they’d refuse to settle for the 2.7 percent raises offered to and accepted by industrial workers in the first round of labour negotiations earlier this spring. Teachers and other public sector workers who claim they’ve lagged behind other workers’ groups for several years also refused, prompting the first strikes that began last week. Thousands more joined them this week, and Larsen is already warning that the nursing strike will spread from early next week if the employers don’t initiate more talks and improve their pay offer. After initially taking 313 health care workers off the job Friday morning, Unio called another 294 into the strike by mid-afternoon.
Employers’ representatives claim they’re hampered by tight budgets and, not least, a need for solidarity with the earlier labour settlements that may fall apart if nurses and teachers win bigger raises than the industrial workers. Anne-Kari Bratten, leader of the employers’ organization Spekter, claimed the nurses’ “ambitions were too high,” arguing that the public sector can only offer the same economic framework other labour groups have received this year.
Larsen and other officials at the trade union federation Unio dismiss that argument, on the grounds private sector workers have earned better than the public sector over time. She and her colleagues turned down an offer of 2.8 percent raises.
There’s always a chance the government can order health care personnel back to work, if their strike is deemed to threaten life or health. The nurses and teachers, however, have broad public support and have won cheers from passersby where they’re out on the picket line.