Unions urge boycott of Norwegian Air

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.

Norwegian's pilots have won a pensions dispute with their employer. PHOTO: Norwegian Air/Hans Olav Nyborg

Norwegian Air has gone from being a successful low-fare carrier within Europe to being plagued by labour and service problems mostly tied to its new long-haul service to Asia and North America. PHOTO: Norwegian Air/Hans Olav Nyborg

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.

Two Thai cabin crew members posing with Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos on the airline's first flight to New York. NRK has revealed that the Thailand-based crews are paid a fraction of what Norwegian cabin crews receive. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Two Thai cabin crew members posed with Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos after the airline’s first flight to New York. NRK has revealed that the Thailand-based crews are paid a fraction of what Norwegian cabin crews receive. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

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.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • paper

    This is brilliant. Why stop here?

    Does Gulbrandsen want to boycott all shops which sell goods produced in China by workes underpaid by Norwegian standards? Or any companies which outsource software development to India?

    • Tom Just Olsen

      Globalisation is going to hit us all, eventually. How would you like to be work for Adecco for NOK 3000 a month?

      • paper

        Not sure, what is your point?
        Globalisation is real and it affects everyone’s lifes right now. Not only Norwegian’s employees’.

    • Adam

      Agreed. Next they’ll be demanding the guy running the metal detector at JFK or BKK is paid a Norwegian salary, benefits, etc…

      I don’t have any sympathy for the unions until Norwegian tries putting their “underpaid” Thai staff on domestic or nordic flights.

  • DK1984

    How is this any different from paying contracted expats the same rates (or slightly better) they would receive in their home countries? If 3000kr a month is a good salary in Thailand, and the workers live in Thailand, and receive an 800kr expense allowance when on a layover (which is more than enought to eat and drink when in NYC over a 2 day period), and their lodging is presumably paid for, I don’t get the argument.
    I don’t fly Norwegian for many reasons, the salaries of the staff is NOT one of them.

    • Tom Just Olsen

      The Red Green government tried to stop multinationals from paying their employees here in Norway far lower wages than what is typical in Norway. But EU intervened and claimed that these multinationals have this right through the EEA agreement. The BlueBlue government will not give a damn.

      Nor do I fly with the airline Company with pilots from Estonia, flight attendants from Ukrain, that speaks surprisingly good and owned mainly by US Investment banks – that freshly calls themselves; ‘Norwegian’. SAS is just as cheap. Even if I don’t want it or not, I am a part owner of the latter as a Norwegian citizen.

  • Robert Cumming

    I don’t have a problem with this, many airlines do the same, most which fly to China use Chinese based flight attendants who earn a good wage in China but lower than what non Chinese based crew earn, but compared to local conditions they are very well paid. 3000 NOK is 16,000 baht, the average salary in Thailand is about 7,500 baht, when you ad in expenses and so forth these are very well paid Thai’s.

    Not that I fly Norwegian, I’m a SAS flyer, I have an EBG card, I like the lounges, I like priority baggage, priority boarding, fast track, I wouldn’t get that with Norwegian so I won’t fly them. I’m also looking forward to the Oslo domestic lounge, which will open next year.

    • Ptt

      Just for your information, the average salary for Bachelor graduated Thais is 15,000 bht (aka 3,000 kr.) All Thai flight attendants working for Norwegian Long Haul hold at lease a bachelor degree.

      • Robert Cumming

        so they are doing fairly well, we shouldn’t subject them to Norwegian standards, they don’t live here.

  • DK1984

    Exactly. What would happen in Thailand if the workers living there started earning NOK 30.000 a month when employees of other airlines were making the equivilant of NOK 2.000-3.000 a month? It sure would piss off a lot of people living and working in that country.

  • No_offence_intended

    You can have Thai crew or you can have no ‘Norwegian’ services on these routes. No one is investigating what Thai Airlines pay their staff, are they. Aviation is very much a global industry. There is no other way for Norwegian to compete. You can’t have Scandinavian crews and paying their wages,

    Suggesting a boycott is itself ridiculous. You will be doing these Thai staff out of well paid jobs. The customers will be the ultimate ones to decide if this long haul low fare, no frills model works, not the union.

    I should also add. That in effect with all the extras the staff get paid. Their monthly wage is substantially greater than 3000 nok a month. These ‘fringe’ benefits are linked to turning up for work. 200 for 12 hour flight. And a very generous food allowance of 800 nok for food, which of course most of them would wisely save.

  • Tom Just Olsen

    Sure. Our wealth today is based on that others suffer.

    When I was young it was the Japanese that was ‘cheap’. Now the Japanese industry workers earns more than the Germans. That will happen will China too some 15 years down the road. The next cheap supplier with low salaries will be Africa. And along cheap wages they will use their own raw materials to their advantage too. – Like the Chinese do today.

  • Tom Just Olsen

    Latest: The American pilot union will bring Norwegian in for US transport authorities claiming the use of low paid Thai crew is in breech of the US EU Air Transport Agreement. Surprisingly, the Frp minister of transport reacts negatively on the use of ‘social dumping’ as a business tool.

  • Adam

    It’s quite funny how the socialists frame this as Norwegian abusing employees from poor countries, when deep down it’s really just them being annoyed that somebody who lives in a different country could live a fulfilled life on less than $5000 a month.

    The unions are demanding that the airline staff their intercontinental planes with people on Norwegian labour contracts, who would then earn 10x the going global-rate for the service they provide. This is simply not fair, considering the many foreign carriers who are allowed to compete at Norwegian airports, without paying anywhere near local salaries.

    These unions are all for spreading the wealth around, so long as it doesn’t have to be spread to those without blonde hair and blue eyes. How honorable, their intent to throw a bunch of Thais out of a secure well-paid job!

  • Kanon25

    “Norwegian” airlines is free to do what it wants within the law. However, it should find another name to work under, as it really has nothing to do with a Norwegian identity or values. Problem however is that Norwegians really have never sat down to create a clear picture of what the Norwegian identity is, preferring to define it negatively, as by who is NOT norwegian.

    Basically this airline becoming Ryanair Mark II, but retains the name and colous in order to exploiting the all-to-ready impulse of the norwegian people to rally around every fool that waves a flag, never mind what the real agenda is.

  • Yongyhee Sinsongsuk

    Have you ever asked Thai crews who you pretending to help?? Do we have problem with this? The answer is NO, we are satisfied with the job we have now. Thank you for your concern.

    • Observer2796

      Yongyhee not sure who you’re blasting but I love your style. Tell us more please will you?

  • Natty Nattawan

    First of all, thnx for the concern, no need tho.

    I’m one of NWG bkk base crew, i’m happy with the company i work for and the income i earn. for your information, we all must hold at least a bachelor degree to be accepted here, personally, i hold a degree in Vet Science and, here, i earn a monthly total income more than i did as a Vet. Of course, if i had to relocate to Oslo, i would ask for higher salary. Many airlines that hire foreign base crew do the same, so, open up your minds.

    • Natty Nattawan

      Moreover, don’t use the topic such as walking for a far distance to grocery as an excuse to jeopardize my company. we go to grocery because sometimes we’re bored of the hotel food. we actually can afford a bus to the supermarket, but personally i prefer walking only because i love exercise and that’s it.

      In my own opinion, the union should pay more attention on your own people, many of our crew baggages’ locks were broken and the stuffs were stolen. The time and situations pointed to the loaders and hotel maids, who, i assume, are LOCAL? isn’t it funny that the workers who are lowly paid could own stuffs that other people want to steal?

      • Observer2796

        Natty. Not sure who’re working for but you seem to be an executive no?. Are you a man or a woman? Do you live in/or often fly to Norway? Sorry for all the queries but i’d love to know.

        • Natty Nattawan

          i’m a Thai female flight attendant working for Norwegian, not an executive. flying multiple times to Norway, each time for short stay.