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'The feeling of being redundant was peculiar'


'The feeling of being redundant was peculiar'

Lene Villumsen has only good thoughts about her workplace, but says the feeling of not being good enough was difficult.

March 31 was her last day in the accounting department at Store Norske. Villumsen was one of those who had to go when the company late last year announced its largest-ever downsizing following a thundering deficit.

Good bubble
"I was pretty sure I was one of them when I heard that 100 had to go. But I must also say that when I got the message I spent several hours trying to digest it. Then I agreed with myself that there is not anyone who has not felt sick and that this is going to go fine. And that is a conviction I still have," said Villumsen, who came to Svalbard in connection with an assignment that would last for 11 weeks. That was seven-and-a-half years ago.

On Tuesday at her home on Vei 210 she was unemployed, but the day after she started work on a project for the Longyearbyen Community Council. The project is scheduled to last last for five months and she doesn't know if this will be her last summer as a resident of Svalbard. It depends on whether she can find further work during the fall.

As recently as August of 2013 she was affected by changes at her workplace and the city's cornerstone industry. Store Norske went through its first round of layoffs that year. The next round was announced the following year and a total of 150 employees of what was a 400-person workforce have departed during the past couple of years. The coal company is now operating half of its machinery in anticipation of a response to its emergency loan requests and better coal prices.

"It may well be this is my last year in Svalbard," Villumsen said. "I've had a pretty long and fine life here. Longyearbyen is a great place in my heart, it's a very nice place. There is a bubble of life, but there is a fear with a good bubble."

"It is difficult to imagine that one should go from Longyearbyen and never come back."

'Not good enough'
Beyond Store Norske, the entire community is now awaiting a response from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries regarding emergency loans following a record loss by the company of more than 500 million kroner in 2014. Villumsen said she thinks the coal company will manage, although the situation is difficult. What results from the crisis and restructuring isn't something she's speculating about, but she said she believes it's good the company has new leadership along with new and long-term perspectives.

She said she also knew well how serious the situation was at the coal company but, although she was prepared, there were still strong feelings about being considered redundant.

"Whatever message you get, the feeling you get is of being superfluous, feeling that 'I was not good enough,'" she said. "But I have had a long working life, and had ups and downs, and once you've tried different things in life you of course know that we land on our feet regardless."

Villumsen, who is also involved in local politics as a Bipartisan Party member, emphasized she is not bitter and is looking toward the future.

"But I think it's a horrible shame on Store Norske's behalf and on many of the employees who have had to go," she said. "I am prepared myself, but there are many there who are in a completely different situation."

Finishing touches
Her son has decided to attend high school on the mainland and stay at a dormitory during the fall. Therefore, Villumsen's future options remain quite open. Initially, she will work on the local council project at Bykaia. And this weekend, she has invited her closest colleagues home for dinner.

"Then we will have a small farewell party," she said.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


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