Its pilots have been threatening to go on strike, its new long-haul routes are deeply troubled and now Norway’s once high-flying Norwegian Air faces a passenger boycott. The boycott is being urged by one of Norway’s top labour leaders, who claims the airline is trying to undermine the Norwegian welfare state.
The boycott call comes after state broadcaster NRK reported on its nightly national newscast Dagsrevy on Tuesday that Norwegian’s new Thai flight attendants have base pay of less than NOK 3,000 (USD 500) a month. That’s a fraction of what the airline’s Norwegian flight attendants earn.
“I don’t see any reason at all to fly on Norwegian when it behaves in this manner,” Stein Gulbrandsen, head of Norway’s largest labour organization Fagforbundet, with more than 300,000 members, said on NRK’s national radio stations Wednesday morning. He equates the extremely low pay to social dumping.
The Thai flight attendants based in Bangkok who work on board Norwegian’s new long-haul flights between Bangkok, Oslo and New York receive some additional payments, for example when they work on a 12-hour shift between Oslo and Bangkok, but that payment (called a tillegg) amounts to NOK 200 (USD 34).
“We have to look at that as a gross provocation,” Gulbrandsen said.
He sits on the trade union organization’s powerful arbeidsutvalg (working committee) and doesn’t only want Fagforbundet’s roughly 340,000 members to stop flying on Norwegian. He’s urging all Norwegian passengers to boycott the airline.
“Respectable organizations and respectable people don’t patronize operations that are trying to undermine the Norwegian welfare state,” said Gulbrandsen.
‘Well above’ average pay in Thailand
A smiling Thai flight attendant, dressed in her Moods of Norway-designed uniform, confirmed on air Tuesday night that she was earning base pay in Thai bhat that was the equivalent of NOK 3,000. NRK’s interview with her was monitored by Norwegian spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen and he did not refute the figures, but claimed that NOK 3,000 is “well above” the average monthly wage in Thailand.
He conceded that the flight attendants don’t work in Thailand, and have expenses when they are on layovers in Oslo and New York, for example, for which they’re paid an extra NOK 800. NRK reported that Norwegian’s foreign flight attendants often walk long distances from their hotel to a grocery store to save on eating expenses.
Sandaker-Nielsen claimed, however, that the Thai flight attendants do live in Thailand and have accepted Norwegian’s pay offer. “The amount our cabin crews sit with every single month when they get their salaries paid by us is much higher than what the average pay is in Thailand.
Unions call for political response
Gulbrandsen isn’t impressed and Norway’s trade union confederation LO has also criticized Norwegian and cancelled its travel agreements with the airline.
“The Norwegian government authorities can’t sit still and accept that the respectable labour agreements we have here in Norway are undermined in this way,” Gulbrandsen said, adding that he hopes for some political response. The airline registered its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft in Ireland, though, so that it would not be forced to hire higher-paid Norwegian crews on board its low-fare long-haul routes.
Norway’s flight attendants’ unions have also urged boycotts of cut-rate carrier Ryanair, leaving Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) as an apparently acceptable locally based airline on which union members can travel internationally in good conscience. SAS, though, has also been plagued by labour trouble over the years, with analysts and not least Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary blaming the unions for SAS’ severe financial losses.