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So what’s the strike about, given that it’s causing so much trouble to the UK cruising public?

Well, it seems to be a public-sector dispute over wages. Unlike almost every other european country Norway has continued to grow in recent years, and the government there is worried about their economy overheating. So they’ve asked for wage restraint. Which means that for the private sector they can ask for restraint, but for the public sector they can take a hard line (or try to) on wage negotiations. And that’s what has happened. Sound familiar?

Actually, for Norway it’s very unfamiliar – I gather that this is the first major public sector strike for 28 years. There were about 30,000 public sector employees called out about a week ago, but the numbers have been growing ever since. The strikers are from many different parts of the Norwegian public sector, it’s just a very small part that’s affecting cruises. And I ought to make it clear that it isn’t in fact the pilots who are striking, it’s the drivers (if that’s the right word) of the pilot boats which ferry the pilots to and from the ships, and which we all enjoy seeing bouncing around alongside a cruise ship,  endeavouring to get close enough to allow the pilot to make the crossing either onto or off it. This also explains why some ports in remote parts of Norway are still able to accept ships: in these ports there are no public-sector pilot boat drivers, instead this job has been contracted out to private companies rather then being done by public sector employees. Do I sense a policy change on the way?

The difference between the two sides is actually quite small. Private sector wages have increased by about 4.5% in the last year, and what’s on the table for the public sector is about 3.5%, and that doesn’t seem like a very big gap to me. It will all depend on the negotiating stance taken by the two sides – the dispute could drag on for quite a while, or could be resolved within a couple of hours. Hence the uncertainty on the part of the cruise lines over the best thing to do .

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