Is Norway headed for a major public transport strike?

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.

Is Norway headed for a major public transport strike?
Photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash

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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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.