‘Shocking’ cuts at Norwegian Polar Institute – or perhaps not?


Employes and union leaders are expressing anger at reports the Norwegian Polar Institute is seeking a 10 percent reduction in staff, but the director said virtually all departures will be voluntary and the agency’s activities in Svalbard and elsewhere should benefit from the effort to improve cost efficiencies.

News of the cutbacks caught many by surprise since the institute has been emphasizing its increased activities in the Arctic, including the current high-profile and high-budget expedition by Lance in the sea ice north of Svalbard. But Jan-Gunnar Winther, the institute’s director, emphasized the reductions are not drastic and come at a time when many government agencies are being asked to trim costs.

“We expect to come out strengthened after this,” he said. “We have had 10 years of growth behind us. A number of Norwegian governmental institutions are asked to be more efficient. We’re looking for areas we can get more return for our money to make certain we are using our money in most efficient way possible.”

Union representatives have stated the institute is seeking a 10 percent reduction of its 170 employees due to an expected lower allocation of funds in next year’s national budget.

“Employers are within their rights to offer voluntary severance packages to employees without going into negotiations with the unions, but we have indicated that we disagree with the institute since the budget for 2016 is not to be submitted before the fall,” said Arild Sundfjord, a representative for The  Norwegian Association of Researchers, in an interview with iTromsø.

But Winther said there is no fixed total of staff cuts. He said graphics design, affecting two employees, is being eliminated because less work is being performed in that area. In addition, an unspecified number of employees are being offered voluntary severance packages – but no additional layoffs are planned if few accept.

“If everyone says no there will not be a second round,” Winther said.

Ivar Stokkeland, a representative for the Norwegian Civil Service Union, told iTromsø the severance plan is vague and is sending a negative message to employees.

“Our members are shocked, angry, frustrated and angry,” he said. “Most people would say no to a severance payment, but the signal from the employer is still that we would like