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Hadia Tajik, a trade union-supporting labour minister

Hadia Tajik, a trade union-supporting labour minister

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Hadia Tajik, Norway's new Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, is a strong defender of trade unions. She will be responsible for what the red-green coalition government calls a spring clean of the labour market.

This is not Hadia Tajik’s first time as a government minister. She served as Minister of Culture between 2012 and 2013. She has also been the Labour Party deputy leader since 2015. It adds up to making her a heavyweight among Norway’s social democratic politicians.

This might not be a description she agrees with when she is training krav maga, an Israeli self-defence system. In her new book “Freedom”, published just before Norway’s parliamentary elections in September this year, she describes a workout: 

“I had no illusions about what the training would do for me: I was but a 162 centimetres tall woman. Most men would wrestle me to the ground anyway. 

“I did not train krav maga to protect myself against street violence. I did it because it gave me psychological strength during a rough time. I got divorced in 2016. I was dealing with demanding situations at work." 

Hitting without apology

Learning how to hit without apology, to protect yourself against blows, learning to get back up again every time she ended up on the exercise mat and to react quickly rather than growing irritated or developing a bad conscience. 

“That is what I was there for. It helped.”

As I walked past the Norwegian Parliament in 2018, there was a demonstration against the EU Commission’s fourth railway package directive. Among big, muscular railway workers and red trade union banners stood Hadia Tajik with arms crossed and a serious frown. I snapped the photo you can see above. 

Hadia Tajik book coverShe radiates the same attitude on the cover of her book. She sits leaning forward wearing an elegant trouser suit and high heels, ready for battle. The critics were quick off the mark: 

“The super-hot picture of Tajik is not meant to sell makeup or clothes but to tempt us into reading a book which starts with 50 pages on the importance of trade union work. In this context, the feminised and sexualised portrait is very misplaced,” wrote Faculty Director at the University of Stavanger, Karoline Holmboe Høibo in an opinion piece in the Stavanger Aftenblad newspaper. 

“I could have understood if this accusation had come from a slightly conservative Pakistani man,” answered Tajik, who called the piece “nonsense”.

Her book’s subheading is “A political and personal story”. It is not, however, personal in the sense Norwegian politicians’ biographies usually are. This autumn alone, former Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, former Labour Party leader Thorbjørn Jagland and former Labour Party secretary Martin Kolberg published books full of anecdotes and personal attacks – most often directed at people in their own parties. 

Hadia Tajik shares a few glimpses into her childhood. Her parents moved to Norway in 1974. Her father had dreamed of studying mathematic. Instead, he became a welder for a company making oil rigs in Stavanger during the early years of Norway’s oil industry. Her family settled down in Bjørheimsbygd, a small community of 500 people in commuting distance from Stavanger. 

Her mother found work in the fisheries industry, putting sardines in tins. Later, Hadia Tajik’s parents opened a local shop called Ali Kolonial. Contact with their home country was a once-weekly telephone call. If nothing much had happened, her mother would let it ring three times before hanging up, in order to save money. That way, the family in Pakistan knew she was doing fine. 

If Hadia Tajik and her older brother had not learned the language, they would not have been able to talk to their grandparents. So they learned Farsi well enough to understand the nuances. 

“To say that someone is like my liver, is equally warm and praising as saying he is my heart,” writes Tajik. 

But most of the book is about politics, why trade unions are so important, what will happen to the oil industry and how gender equality will be reached despite the social control that exists in small societies like Bjørheimsbygd and in immigrant environments.

The Hurdal platform

The political agreement reach between the Labour Party and the Centre Party at Hurdal – hence the name the Hurdal platform – is full of political aims for the labour market:

  • The government wants to strengthen the tripartite cooperation making it more binding and more strategic in order to face the big challenges that Norway faces in the years to come.
  • It wants to stimulate more union membership among both workers and employers. The government wants to work closely with the social partners to secure a serious and organised labour market.
  • It wants to carry out a spring clean of the labour market to secure permanent full-time jobs with Norwegian wages and working conditions.

Some of the concrete measures include a doubling of the tax rebate for trade union fees, the reintroduction of the right to collectively sue companies that hire illegally and making public employers hire more people with physical handicaps.

Hadia Tajik also inherits what has been called the greatest legal injustice in recent Norwegian history – the imprisonment of 80 people and the forcing of a further 2,400 people to pay back benefits.

The accused had taken unemployment benefits with them abroad, which the Norwegian welfare authority NAV claimed was illegal. However, it turned out both NAV, Norwegian governments and the courts had misinterpreted regulations in the EEA agreement, which gives Norway access to the EU common market. 

Hadia Tajik

A third version of Hadia Tajik: the official photograph of her as Minsiter of Labour and Social Inclusion. Photo: NTB Kommunikasjon/Prime Minister's Office

Hadia Tajik’s first decision as Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion was to extend Covid support measures until the end of the year.

“This government is in no doubt: The measures will be in place for the duration of the crisis,” said Hadia Tajik.

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Hadia Tajik facts
  • Born: 1983
  • Married to Kristian Skard
  • Trained as a journalist and lawyer. Master's degree in human rights
  • Political advisor to Minister for Labour Bjarne Håkon Hansen (2006) and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg 2008
  • MP since 2009
  • Minister for Culture September 2012 – October 2013
  • Labour Party deputy leader since 2015
  • Minister for Labour and Social Inclusion since 14 October 2021

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