Another 20,000 Norwegian Air passengers faced being stranded on Sunday, and 25,000 on Monday, as the airline’s Scandinavian pilots continued their strike into its second week. Frustrated Norwegian Air officials said that even if the strike is called off, it will still take several days to get flights running on schedule again.
Norwegian Air said it was forced to keep most of its flights within Scandinavia grounded, while departures from Scandinavian airports to European destinations faced delays. Some were also cancelled but most long-distance routes including those to the US and Thailand were operating as normal, since they’re crewed by pilots who are not members of the Norwegian Pilot Union (NPU) and its labour federation YS/Parat.
Around 150,000 passengers have already had their travel plans severely disrupted by the strike that began on February 28. Efforts to end the strike resumed Saturday afternoon and carried on for around 20 hours, but talks broke off early Sunday afternoon because, as DN.no reported, there was no basis for a solution.
The pilots’ union denied there was a formal collapse, with a spokesman saying the union was instead merely waiting for a new response from employers’ group NHO Luftfart and Norwegian management. Norwegian’s management countered that the pilots had received a new offer, and that it was Norwegian that was waiting for a response. State broadcaster NRK reported that the negotiations were in a “critical” phase and at 9pm, the union announced that talks were suspended for the evening.
Public support has been growing in Norway for Norwegian Air’s hard-pressed chief executive Bjørn Kjos, even among some stranded passengers interviewed by various media. The head of Norway’s largest employers’ union NHO is now calling the demands being made by pilots’ union “the most unreasonable” from a labour organization in NHO’s history.
NHO is formally negotiating on behalf of Norwegian Air, although Norwegian officials are also directly involved. NHO’s boss Kristin Skogen Lund said the pilot union’s labour federation YS/Parat was putting the company into a very difficult, if not dangerous, situation. “I will go so far as to say that it will pose a huge challenge for the three-part cooperation we have in Norway if we get more of this type of irresponsible labour union behaviour,” Lund told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
She noted how Norwegian Air lost more than NOK 1.5 billion last year, and how the airline industry faces severe international competition. “The company has a need for restructuring and cost reduction,” Lund said. “Bjørn Kjos has offered much more than can be expected in order to appease the (Scandinavian) pilots. They nevertheless are demanding job guarantees for more pilots than are needed in a company that must reduce its staffing. We have never seen such unreasonable demands in NHO’s history.”
Lund agreed with Norwegian’s management, other employees and even some pilots who have spoken out against their own union that NPU and Parat are also putting the jobs of their colleagues in danger, “many of whom perhaps earn only a third or half of what the pilots earn.” She stressed that the airlines aren’t the first industry to face tough international competition: “If the labour unions in other industries carried on like this, we wouldn’t have any industry in Norway.”
Lund’s harsh criticism of YS/Parat was flatly rejected by the union, even though others have also warned the union leaders against driving the airline into bankruptcy. Parat leader Hans Erik Skjæggerud called Lund’s claims “completely unreasonable” and said the only thing “historic” about the difficult negotiations was that “it’s been 80 years since (the pilots’) overall labour contract was agreed, and we feel we’re fighting for the same things now.” The pilots’ most fundamental demand is to be employed through their employer’s parent company, not subsidiaries.
The new round of talks that began around 4pm Saturday afternoon is without the state mediator that brought the two sides together on Friday, only to see mediation collapse early Saturday morning.
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