A major strike by teachers nationwide spread again on Monday, with 8,450 teachers currently out on picket lines and another 100 set to be pulled out of classrooms in Stavanger next Monday. The strike remains deadlocked despite several efforts during the weekend to reach a settlement.
Education Minister Tonje Brenna called the teachers’ unions and the national organization representing their employers (local governments all over Norway) into a meeting on Saturday, but there was no breakthrough. Then State Mediator Mats Wilhelm Ruland sat down with both sides, but had to announce late Sunday that “the distance (between the two sides) is too great.”
Speculation has been running high that the government would order the teachers back to work, since many children haven’t been able to go back to school this fall and some reportedly are suffering depression and anxiety. Labour Minister Marte Mjøs Persen of the Labour Party said during the weekend, however, that “it’s the two parties’ responsibility to find a solution.”
Oslo schools have been shielded from the strike, because they have their own tariff region and terms and accepted a settlement last spring. The strike is otherwise affecting schools and children from north to south, and some young students have claimed in the media that it’s “worse than the pandemic,” which also closed schools but allowed at least remote education online.
While many have sympathy for the teachers demanding higher pay, Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO hasn’t publicly supported the strike. LO leader Peggy Hessen Følsvik told state broadcaster NRK last week that the municipal sector is “in the special (unusual) situation that one of LO’s federations has turned down a settlement that all the other federations have accepted.”
She went on to claim that the demands the teachers’ unions are striking for “depart from the system the others have wanted.” Then it’s up to the unions to comment on or defend their strike, Følsvik said.
Meanwhile the local governments have been saving tens of millions of kroner by not having to pay their teachers. Newspaper Klassekampen reported that Bergen alone has already saved NOK 29 million in unpaid teachers’ salaries.