Norway’s Public Service Pension Fund, Statens Pensjonskasse (SPK), has announced it is offering 12 of its case workers to help the now hard-pressed welfare agency, NAV, process applications for unemployment benefit, which have risen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The head of the NOK551bn (€47.2bn) pension fund, which is owned by the Ministry of Labour, said operations at SPK had now normalised allowing it the flexibility to help the welfare agency, although most of the fund’s staff were working from home.

Finn Melbø, chief executive officer of SPK, said: “This has enabled us to offer NAV assistance in their important task of helping people who have fallen into an emergency situation.”

He added that the resulting temporary reduction in the pension fund’s workforce during the period of secondment would not affect the level of service it gave its members.

SPK said NAV was now receiving thousands of applications for unemployment benefits on a daily basis, with the coronavirus pandemic putting great pressure on the agency’s own case workers.

It was a very demanding time for both the Norwegian economy and the labour market as a whole, the fund said.

Sigrun Vågeng, work and welfare director at NAV, said she was grateful for SPK’s help: “We are looking forward to getting 12 skilled and experienced case workers who can quickly settle into our tasks and help people who have now fallen into a difficult situation,” she said.

The two organisations are now discussing how the plan will work in practical terms, with the SPK staff due to begin assisting the welfare agency from 1 May, for a period of three to six months, according to the pension fund.

According to NAV’s statistics, 2,700 people applied for unemployment benefit in Norway yesterday. While this was lower than the daily level seen earlier in the pandemic, the agency said, the number was still five times more than the average NAV received each day before the coronavirus crisis.

SPK is Norway’s largest public-service pensions provider for current and former employees of the state, the educational system, those working in research, pharmacies and other organisations, with 1.1 million scheme members in total.