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'When you get your letter, you are a little put out.'

Tommy Johansen and Terje Carlsen are optimistic despite of the dismissal. FOTO: Eirik Palm

Coal crisis hits Svalbard hard:

'When you get your letter, you are a little put out.'

'I waited a few hours before opening the letter. I knew what was there,' says Terje Carlsen, Store Norske's communications manager. 'So it was with me as well,' says Tommy Johansen about his dismissal notice from the coal company.

The two are talking animatedly while browsing through old postings on the bulletin board in the recreation room of the abandoned Mine 3. On it, among other things, are the sheets showing the last work shifts in 1996. Many of the names are known.

It's Friday afternoon and there is a little bit of work remaining before the weekend. Carlsen has some routine chores in the mining facility which is now serving as a museum. In about an hour, Basecamp Spitsbergen will bring guests for a tour of the surface installation.

"You're seeing one end and then the
question is what is on the other side?"


In September, he once again set out on the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. In early October, he reached his journey's goal. Back home a message came and earlier this week he received the letter he expected.

"I said 'which way to the bar?'" Carlsen says. "I have sat in the middle of the information flow and seen it up close. You're sitting in it at length and hoping that it does not happen you. When you get the letter it becomes very concrete. You are a little put out."

"I felt a little weightless," he says. "I thought 'what does this mean now?' You're seeing one end and then the question is what is on the other side? Maybe I'm naive, but I'm choosing to have faith that it will resolve itself."

He joined Store Norske in October 2004, working as the communications chief for all but three years since then. Before that, he was a communications advisor for The Governor of Svalbard. On the mainland, he has a background at NRK and various newspapers.

He calls his experiences in Svalbard and at Store Norske "a fantastic journey."

"Now I certainly have it a little easier than many others who are losing their jobs, partly because I do not have small children," Carlsen says. "But I would have liked it to be different. I would like to have chosen the time to depart from Svalbard itself. And this does not only concern me. I have a wife who has a job in Longyearbyen and who is thriving here. But we are in agreement about the final departure now."

"The biggest change
I think was today"


On the floor inside the recreation room are three or four buckets to catch water dripping from the ceiling where the snow has blown into the rafters and melted. Store Norske is shrinking slowly but surely, and rounds of discussions are progressing continuously, both among employees at the mines and the headquarters down by the old pier in Longyearbyen.

When Svalbardposten wrote about the cost-saving measures Sept. 11, it was stated the company's administration would be reduced to between five and ten employees. Between 12 to 14 employees have disappeared since then and the cafeteria, which was previously full, is starting to get sparse.

"The biggest change I think was today," Johansen says.

Three more of his colleagues departed during the day.

Johansen joined Store Norkse's administration in 2012. He was dismissed in April of this year, but then asked back to work on a safety project. The assignment lasts until February, at which time his employment will end.

"I found out in early April that I would get dismissed and was involved in a paragraph 1.15 meeting where I had the opportunity to argue for my job. Then came the dismissal. Everything was properly conducted," says Johansen, who came from the Lillehammer area.
"It is simple in that I'm single, but it's not that it's okay to lose your job," says Johansen, whose past work experience includes the Norwegian Armed Forces and Kongsberg Gruppen. "There are certainly those who have it worse."

"I obviously went through a hard time the first few weeks after the dismissal as well, but there are those who have have it harder than me."

Is maintaining a sense of humor important?

"Yes, definitely. It is across the board. And there is surprisingly good morale generally," Johansen says, adding:

"Everyone understands, of course, why it happened. It's by no means in a way so that people are bring dismissed without thorough assessments being done and, as it says in the dismissal letters: the grounds for termination is the business's financial situation."

"Store Norske is my place"


While the coal company is making it largest cuts ever and shrinking to a medium-size company, Store Norske has plenty of supporters. Most employees are also refraining from criticizing the company. If Store Norske doesn't get a clarification by Nov. 23, even more jobs may be lost.

"I realize that it will be challenging for the leadership at Store Norske when there are so many who must go," says Carlsen, who announced the resignation on Facebook to explain his situation was clarified.

"It dealt only with me and the comments were nothing but nice," he says.
Among those commenting was Store Norske Administrative Director Wenche Ravlo. 

"It's incredibly sad to have let so many of Store Norske's employees go. You have been and are a fantastic supporter, Terje. No matter what, I believe that new opportunities will open up for you," she wrote.

But it took Carlsen a bit of time for to read those words after he got his official notice.

"I got the letter personally handed to me. I knew I would get my dismissal before Nov. 1 and I didn't open it until a couple of hours has gone past. You know what it says."

"Yes, so it was with me as well," Johansen interjects.

The two describes Store Norske as "home."

"Store Norske is my place, I feel, "Carlsen says. "This is where I belong. I would have liked to here been here 20 years earlier."

"Store Norske is quite unique," Johansen says

"I'm definitely thankful
for what I have experienced"

A time for everything

Efforts to turn Mine 3 into a tourist attraction have been going on for several years. This fall it was official opening with Basecamp responsible for the operations and, as a wry statement and a commitment to the environment, planting a tree for every visitor at its plantation in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Johansen and Carlsen say it doesn't feel like they're finished with Svalbard, but they are confident the future will go well for them.

"When you're approaching 60 years of age you may not be as attractive in the job market, but I'm open to everything," Carlsen says. "I have a past working at a youth home, which I thought was very rewarding. I could well imagine that. Maybe I'll go on a pilgrimage to Spain. One will emerge strengthened from this."

Is they worried nobody will hire them?

"I am thinking of how it may be to go unemployed. But I think I will contribute well in a new job," Johansen says, adding:

"I'm definitely thankful for what I have experienced."

"I have faith that I'll find something to do," Carlsen says. "The idea that there may be no use for me I avoid. I cannot complain about not getting to be in Svalbard anymore. There is no human right to stay here, but I realize people are strongly linked to Svalbard and I wish anyone the best who wants to be here."

How will it feel going out the door for the last time?

"There is a time for everything and I think things will work out. Should we get a job on the mainland, it is perhaps better to be there. It is not certain it will be so great. But you are going from your home and you know it is the last time. That will be strange."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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