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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Strikes hit police, universities, ministries, even weather forecasters

Most threatened strikes have been averted at the last minute in Norway this spring, while some strikers were ordered back to work this week. An ongoing strike by the labour federation Unio, however, has kept expanding: It represents a wide range of public sector employees who are demanding higher pay but also the right to retain their own collective bargaining agreement.

Leaders of the labour federation Unio led another strike demonstration in Oslo last week, with more to come. PHOTO: Stig Weston / Unio

LO, Norway’s largest trade union federation, settled with the state in late May and hasn’t been happy that the federations Unio and Akademikerne negotiate separately for their own labour pacts (called a tariffavtale in Norwegian), and opted to strike. The Labour Party-led government, which came to terms with its allied LO but not with Unio and Akademikerne, isn’t happy either.

This year’s strike season has thus been charaterized by political as much as economic issues. Labour and LO stress the need for overall pay policies that “secure all employees’ wage development and redistribute wages among labour groups,” according to LO’s deputy leader, Sissel Skoghaug.

State employees with lengthy education, however, want their pay to reflect their academic and professional expertise. The researchers, college professors, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists and others represented by Unio claim they’re  striking over principle as well as pay. They want to retain the separate labour pacts they won during the former Conservatives-led government, which allow them to engage in local wage negotiations instead of centralized.

Some left-leaning critics called it “pure egoism,” and suggest the highly educated public sector strikers want to enrich themselves at the cost of lower-paid workers. They complain of “divide and conquer” tactics that threaten the solidarity of the labour movement.

On Monday the state found an opportunity to end Akademikernes’ strike, after it had come to include employees at Norway’s national security authority (NSM) along with inspectors from the food safety authority Mattilsynet. With too many of them off on strike, national security could be threatened, Labour Minister Tonje Brenna claimed, while lots of chickens wouldn’t be cleared for slaughter, raising animal welfare concerns. Members of Akademikerne were ordered back to work pending mandatory arbitration that may or may not meet their demands.

Unio, meanwhile, keeps pulling more members off the job. State budget negotiations have already been affected by striking employees within the Finance Ministry, university students risk having exams delayed or cancelled, and on Wednesday, more than 50 state meteorologists were due to be pulled off the job. That will affect weather forecasting and, possibly, airlines that need accurate predictions of any storms or other weather issues.

More police in charge of passport control at several Norwegian airports were also likely to join the strike, raising the risk of long lines and missed flights. Travelers heaved a sigh of relief last week when other airport workers settled, warding off chaos at OSL Gardermoen. Then unhappy pilots at Norwegian Air (represented by different union federations) came to terms with airline management. Now, however, airports in Oslo and Bergen may be disrupted after all.

More than 3,300 Unio members, including well-known TV weather forecasters like Terje Alsvik Walløe on NRK, are now on strike, along with lots of university employees that traditionally support the Socialist Left Party (SV). Party leaders, though, have been strangely quiet as the strike has expanded. They have a support agreement with the Labour-Center government and would also rather see one large collective bargaining agreement for everyone.

“Strikes represent important battles that we fully support,” SV’s Freddy A Øvstegård, leader of the labour and social affairs committee in Parliament, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) in 2022, when day care workers went on strike for better pension benefits. He hasn’t been willing to comment on the current strike, though, prompting Conservative politicians to pounce.

“SV is avoiding a question of principle around the Norwegian labour model,” Henrik Asheim, deputy leader of the Conservatives, told DN. “If we want to secure real organizational freedom … we can’t let LO dictate the terms for labour negotiations. Various labour federations must be able to have other interests than LO’s.” Berglund



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