Norway faces possible doctors’ strike as deadline looms for deal

Norway faces possible doctors' strike as deadline looms for deal
Illustration photo: Hush Naidoo on Unsplash
A deadline of midnight on Thursday is approaching for a new collective bargaining agreement over doctors’ working terms in Norway.

If unions and employer representatives are unable to reach agreement by late Thursday, Norway could see doctors going on strike in the coming weeks, VG reports.

Talks between the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and the Norwegian Medical Association (NMA) began on Wednesday.

Negotiations between the two sides previously broke down in September, with provisions over on-call working hours a key stumbling block, VG writes.

The NMA has said that it believes the workload of on-call or emergency doctors (vaktleger)is too heavy and that this is to the detriment of both ER doctors and GPs. It has asked for a limit on the amount of on-call work doctors can be required to fulfil.

National broadcaster NRK reported on Thursday that doctors may be working up to 120-hour weeks, while VG’s report cites a Directorate of Health study which found that district doctors covering on-call shifts work an average of 70 hours per week and that this can exceed 100-hour weeks for a small percentage of doctors in smaller municipalities.

The deadline for negotiations is midnight on Thursday, with doctors’ unions scheduled to take member into strike if no new deal is in place.

 

“For about 40 years doctors have been exempt from the working hours provisions of the working environment laws. We can simply no longer accept an unlimited exception. This affects both patients and doctors,” Tor Magne Johnsen, a doctor who has participated in the negotiations, told VG.

The union is asking for doctors to be allowed to consent to working more than seven hours of emergency (legevakt) per week, corresponding to 28 hours of on-call shifts, the newspaper writes.

The association’s president, Marit Hermansen, told VG that everything would be done to reach an agreement with KS but that “like in all (industrial) conflicts, strike is a possible outcome if the parties do not reach agreement”.

KS director Tor Arne Gangsø said that he could not comment on ongoing negotiations but has previously stressed the need for a “long-term solution” to the problem.

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