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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Labour federations call off strike

UPDATED: Thousands of striking Norwegian workers in a variety of sectors are returning to work, instead of taking part in more labour demonstrations on Friday. The abrupt change of plans followed confirmation Thursday afternoon that Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO has accepted a new wage offer from employers’ organization NHO.

Most of Norway’s largest trade union federations (on the left) and employer organizations (on the right) finally came to terms on Thursday, ending a strike that began early Monday morning. One of the federations, YS, remains “in dialogue” with NHO. PHOTO: LO Media

That ended a major nationwide strike that had been due to expand on Friday. LO had called out an additional 16,561 workers, on top of the nearly 25,000 striking since early Monday morning. Both LO and NHO confirmed that they had agreed on a new wage agreement, even as they scrambled to finalize details.

“The strike is ending immediately,” read a joint press release, “and people can go back to work as soon as they can.” Not everyone initially, though, since trade union federation YS still hadn’t come to terms with NHO. That meant members of YS-organizations would continue to strike pending results of new “dialogue” with NHO, but they lso ended up settling Thursday evening.

LO leader Peggy Hessen Følsvik, meanwhile, was smiling on her way to a meeting with the national mediator before holding a press conference Thursday evening. She scored a major victory in her battle to get management at companies all over Norway to share more of their profits with their employees. Følsvik and the leaders of several other trade union federations had demanded pay raises high enough to at least give workers real wage growth after two years of seeing modest pay hikes eaten up by sharply rising prices, interest rates and energy costs.

She and the members of a long list of other trade union federations were also angry over how executive compensation in Norway rose as much as 20 percent last year, mostly because of the huge profits enjoyed by many of Norway’s largest companies. Workers, meanwhile, were expected to settle for much less.

They had turned down an offer that NHO claimed would result in raises of 5.2 percent, even though this year’s cost of living increase is expected to be 4.9 percent. Only a portion of that was guaranteed through central negotiations, however, with the rest of it hinging on the result of negotiations with individual employers at the local level. Workers have pointed to a long record of losing out on that, while Følsvik herself had no confidence that workers would really get pay hikes equal to 5.2 percent.

Armed with a huge strike fund and tens of thousands workers firmly behind her, Følsvik had vowed as late as Wednesday afternoon that the strike could continue for months ahead. The rapid turnaround on Thursday indicates how NHO decided to improve its offer. NHO member businesses were also already losing millions every day on the strike, that could have had crippling effects on many. It also threatened important overseas contracts and even the production of ammunition bound at Norwegian arms firm Nammo that’s bound for Ukraine.

The new deal still has a framework of 5.2 percent, but now with an extra amount for those paid low salaries and a larger portion of the package tied to the central negotiated amount for everyone. That was boosted to 2.1 percent, from 1.9 percent earlier.

There will thus be “real wage growth,” according to Jørn Eggum, leader of the trade union federation Fellesforbundet. He confirmed that to news bureau NTB while heading into the state mediator’s office, “but let us go in and wrap up the formalities first.” Companies, meanwhile, were cranking up operations again and recalling non-striking workers who’d been temporarily laid off.

The LO-NHO pact is the first in a series of annual labour negotiations this spring, and thus expected to set the tone for other looming wage talks. Berglund



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