Is Norway headed for a major public transport strike?

Is Norway headed for a major public transport strike?
Photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash
If an agreement over wages is not agreed on by midnight Sunday, then nearly 30,000 public transport workers could strike, bringing Norway to a grinding halt.

The mediation between trade union federations LO and YS and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), which represents employers, will take place in Oslo this weekend.

The disagreement between the parties is largely related to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The NHO and employers believe that Norwegian businesses should be protected against too steep a rise in wages after the pandemic to protect Norwegian competitiveness.  

“The biggest difference in our country is between those who have a job and those who do not. To secure jobs we must ensure the competitiveness of companies,” Nina Melsom, a senior representative at NHO, told news agency NTB.

It is estimated that workers represented by these unions would receive a 2.2 percent wage increase. Adjusted for inflation, this would mean a reduction in spending terms as inflation is expected to reach 2.8 percent this year. 

If the parties do not reach an agreement with ombudsmen then Norway could wake up to a standstill with the cancellation of practically all buses and a number of ferry connections.

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More than 25,000 members from LO and over 5,500 bus drivers represented by YS are threatening to strike.

“We enter into this mediation with the goal of reaching an agreement. At the same time, I note that it has not been possible to agree with NHO so far. More than 23,000 LO members in the private sector are ready to strike from Sunday and take the fight for the entire working life against NHO’s provocative demands for a real wage cut,” LO leader Peggy Hessen Følsvik told NTB.

Melsom argues that the circumstances surrounding the wage dispute are unusual.

“We must remember that this is not a normal wage settlement. It is a wage settlement that comes in the middle of a crisis we have not seen since the war,” she told NTB.

The parties were summoned to the talks by the ombudsmen after LO and NHO broke off negotiations on March 25th. This year’s settlement is an interim settlement, where only salaries are negotiated. There has been no strike on an interim settlement since before World War Two.

Følsvik has argued that the demands they are making are moderate.

“We basically have a moderate requirement to secure, not increase purchasing power. It is a strong guide for moderation. It is completely inappropriate to accept a real wage (wages adjusted for inflation) cut,” she told NTB.

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