Some of Norway’s major hotel chains have withdrawn lay-off warnings for their workers, after the government gave in to demands for more compensation for the cost of employees’ salaries during the current Corona-related shutdown. When it was boosted to NOK 40,000 per worker per month earlier this week, hotel employers opted to retain all of them.
Asle Prestegard, director of the Norwegian hotels in the Scandic chain, told news service E24 that the workers are “the most important resource” the hotels have. Hotel, bar and restaurant employers have struggled to rebuild staffing levels after earlier Corona-related lockdowns that forced layoffs for months on end. Many non-Norwegians working in the hospitality industry before the pandemic began ended up leaving Norway and have not returned, leaving employers short-staffed when the country reopened in September.
With Norway now in the midst of at least four weeks of new restrictions that have closed bars and most restaurants and hindered tourism again, employers contended they couldn’t afford to retain staff with no revenue coming in and little if any work to do. The government’s initial compensation package offered to cover NOK 30,000 worth of monthly salary costs per worker but that wasn’t viewed as good enough. After more pressure from the Socialist Left Party (SV), on which the minority left-center government relies for a majority in Parliament, the amount was raised to NOK 40,000 earlier this week.
Another defeat for Finance Minister Vedum
Nordic Choice was the first to declare shortly thereafter that it would withdraw all lay-off notices to employees, with Thon Hotels and Scandic following suit throughout the week. They contended they’d never wanted to lay off workers once again.
“It’s important for us to hang on to the competence and knowledge they (the workers) have,” Prestegård told E24. “It’s also important for us to be in a strong position when the market comes back and demand (for hotel services) rises again.” Hotel employers realize they’d also risk having to compete for hotel workers upon full reopening if they’d all been laid off, possibly driving wages up.
In the end, Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of the Center Party had to change his mind once again and give in to the demands. He had wrongly claimed that Norway’s trade agreement with the EU had prevented the government from raising compensation levels, and had to answer for his mistake in Parliament just before the holiday recess.
Labour organizations representing workers, and the workers themselves, were greatly relieved, even thrilled. “We’re just overjoyed, I got goosebumps when we got the news,” said Anne Marie Andersen, who represents Scandic workers. She’s glad Scandic hadn’t actually laid anyone off, opting instead to “sit still in the boat” while political negotiations dragged on. “They’re using the resources they have now, and this has to be the year’s best holiday gift,” Andersen said.
It was especially welcome news for Nordic Choice, which was also hit by hackers earlier in the month. The attack disabled the hotel chain’s reservations systems plus those for checking in and out and payments. The hotel chain was open about the attack, immediately called in state authorities and refused to meet ransom demands. No credit card- or payment information is believed to have been leaked, but authorities equated the attack to extortion and confirmed that hackers had gained access to some information about employees, bookings and members of the hotel chains guest loyalty program.