Labour action bankrupts Norse, spotlights Sekkingstad

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Norway-based fish-processing business, Norse Production, has declared itself bankrupt, and its main client, the processor Sekkingstad, blames demands made by the Norwegian Union of Food, Beverage and Allied Workers, or NNN, an affiliate of LO, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions.

Sekkingstad CEO, Baard Sekkingstad

Norse’s Norway-based, Polish workforce had gone on strike in the autumn of 2017, and ownership and the company it outsourced for has blamed their union. The union accused the company of “social dumping” — a policy of paying foreign workers less than their local counterparts —  although their autumn strike yielded a collective bargaining agreement.

The LO, however, wasn’t impressed by the deal and filed a binding counter demand that the company make retro-payments totalling about EUR 300,000. Then, the processor workforce threatened more labour unrest.

An arrived-at minimum wage for seafood-processing workers in Norway is 154 kroner (USD 19.7). It is understood that Norse’s workforce were making somewhere between that figure and a Polish wage, which is much lower.

In the aftermath of the firm LO demand and new labour unrest, 120 lost their jobs and the “blame game” escalated. When Norse majority shareholder and manager, Tom Lerberg, declared bankruptcy on Friday, he blamed the LO demand.

Bowing out
With his own company threatened by Norse’s collapse, the chief exec of Norse’s outsourcing client, Baard Sekkingstad, levelled a broadside at the Union.

“NNN has tried to crush the company since it started up over five years ago, and now they have succeeded. It’s very sad, but I also understand Tom Lerberg no longer wanting to fight them,” he told SalmonBusiness in an email, adding that the situation has clouded his own company’s future.

“The company went bankrupt a couple of days ago. I don’t know what will happen going forward. The facility has been driven by Norse Production for over five years. The bankruptcy notice says they have interested parties that want to continue running it. I hope that’s correct.”

Preserving value
According to Sekkingstad, the company has a comprehensive operational plan with Norse Production that gives them the right to “move in” should operational problems ensue. Meanwhile, production of Sekkingstad salmon at the plant continues under the watchful eye of bankruptcy trustee.

“We want to do that in this situation. We would like to seize the opportunities we have to limit the consequences the bankruptcy will have for our activity (in the area),” Sekkingstad said.

Bankruptcy trustee, Bjoern Aage Hamre, told newspaper Bergensavisen that any new owners ought to declare their interests as quickly as possible.