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  • Leserinnlegg til Svalbardposten fra Svalbard Guide Association

    "Some guides in Longyearbyen are lucky. They are Norwegian and have permanent positions working for Norwegian employers. These guides have now been laid off along with their co-workers, but these lucky guides will receive unemployment benefits.

    Many other guides, however, are less fortunate. Some are now finding themselves in extremely difficult situations due to so called “freelance contracts”, or contracts for “on-call employees”. NAV says that each case will be dealt with individually – but as it stands, many guides will not receive any financial assistance from here on (ref: Svalbardposten’s article “Slik er reglene for NAV-støtte”). A prime example are those guides coming from countries outside of the EEA. Or guides who have earned less than 75 000 NOK on average over the past twelve months on Svalbard, since many take on other assignments which are not taxed in Norway, with international companies.

    The tourism industry in now facing some extraordinary challenges, just as Terje Aunevik pointed out to Svalbardposten. The winter season is now ruined, and companies are also fearing the worst for the upcoming summer season. Not only do we expect few tourists to visit during the summer, but those who have already booked will need to be refunded if the current restrictions persist, causing serious cash flow problems for tour operators.

    What we worry for the most right now is that many guides, and others working in the tourism sector, will end up without any unemployment benefits and/or salary in the near future. This in turn will result in an exodus of guides from Svalbard, since apartment rental prices are sky high and cannot be paid for from savings alone. Many guides are also completely dependent on their seasonal salary to even be allowed to stay on Svalbard. They will soon be forced to leave the island and find jobs elsewhere in the world, forming new ties and losing their connection to Svalbard. This will result in companies having to recruit and train guides from scratch, which will necessitate a lot of time and money, when companies will only just be getting over the Corona crisis.

    Our guides are highly qualified and competent, many take the “Arctic Nature Guide” or “SGO” course or have been authorised as Svalbard guides for both summer and winter. They keep our guests safe in the field. We simply cannot afford to lose them! We believe that, on the short term, keeping this level of expertise on the island will prove to be more valuable for the Svalbard nature and our guests than introducing new environmental regulations, which could overwhelm already struggling businesses.

    We are concerned for the companies we work for. There will still be bills to pay, maintenance to carry out, rents to pay, food to buy for dogs, administrative costs that must be covered. And so, if these companies must use time and money to recruit and train new guides, then we fear that some of these companies will go bankrupt.

    A scary thought could be that foreign investment pounces in, ready to buy out these financially weakened companies. These companies would be managed from abroad, and money would be lost from our island. The very texture of tourism and Longyearbyen would change, putting economic growth and profits above environmental considerations and work conditions.

    We call on the Government to take these threats seriously and to come up with financial support for these Svalbard companies that are so badly being hit by this current crisis. We also ask for on-call employees and those from outside the EEA to receive unemployment benefits, so that our skilled guides can stay in Longyearbyen.

    We ask that the Ministry of climate and environment postpone deadlines concerning the process of implementing changes, new regulations and protection plans for Svalbard, so that we in Longyearbyen have enough time to give good and thorough input, as Frigg Jørgensen points out. The importance of this process cannot be under-empathised and must not be rushed.

    We believe that solidarity within our community is of great importance, to help support businesses and individuals alike. We have seen some landlords looking into making rent prices more affordable, and we ask for all others to also consider temporarily making these adjustments for laid off tenants. Let’s help those who are in greatest need if we want Longyearbyen to continue being the same town it is today.

    We encourage all guides that have been laid-off to follow recommendations given by the authorities. Request help from NAV irrespective of the type of contract you have. If you have been laid off and have the time and energy, give a helping hand and stay active.

    And to everybody in Longyearbyen: let us show solidarity with one another. There will no doubt be individuals and companies in need of your help. Show compassion, dedication and community spirit in these trying economic times. Help us keep our talented guides so that we can rise from the ashes, stronger, and together."

    Svalbard Guide Association