Norwegian pilots go out on strike

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UPDATED: State mediation between Norwegian Air management and the airline’s Scandinavian pilots broke down late Friday night, leading to a strike from Saturday morning. Management claimed they would keep flights running with pilots hired in from other airline subsidiaries, but the union claimed that would amount to strike-busting. By Sunday morning, there was a rise in delays and cancellations. 

If Norwegian Air doesn't get the regulatory allowance it needs to have lower-paid foreign crews on board its long-haul flights, CEO Kjos has said the airline can re-register its aircraft in countries that would allow it. He can "flag out" his fleet just like Norwegian shipowners did decades ago. PHOTO: Norwegian/Hans Olav Nygård

Norwegian Air’s Scandinvaian pilots called a strike for the first time in the airline’s history on Saturday. The strike will not affect the airline’s long-haul routes that are operated with cheaper Asian and American crews, but disruption was expected on domestic flights and departures for Europe from Norwegian airports. PHOTO: Norwegian/Hans Olav Nygård

Conflict loomed as the Norwegian Pilot Union and its labour federation Parat moved forward with plans to pull 70 of its members off the job starting Saturday. More pilots will be taken out on strike from Monday and all 700 pilots who are members of the Norwegian Pilot Union will go on strike from Wednesday if the strike still isn’t settled.

Norwegian’s management claimed to have reserve operating plans ready to replace the striking pilots with pilots from other Norwegian subsidiaries who are not members of the Norwegian Pilot Union. “We will do our best so that passengers aren’t affected and that no flights are cancelled during the weekend,” airline spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) shortly after talks broke down around 2am.

At the same time, both Sandaker-Nielsen and state mediator Nils Dalseide urged passengers to check the airline’s website (external link to Norwegian’s strike information in English) and its listing of flight information (external link to Norwegian’s own flight updates from Oslo) to keep themselves updated. The airline’s 8:20am departure from Oslo to Haugesund on Saturday was cancelled, but as of 7:30am, all other flights were shown as operating. Its first flight of the day, to Malaga, was delayed by 40 minutes but another flight, to Szczecin in Poland, left eight minutes early.

On Sunday, however, Norwegian Air was faced with a sudden rise in the numbers of crew members calling in sick. That forced delays and several cancellations, especially on flights between Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger.

Union leaders claimed the plan to bring in other pilots is an attempt to bust the strike, and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) was already warning that it would mount sympathy strikes against Norwegian Air elsewhere on the continent.

“It’s important to stand together,” ETF’s political secretary Francois Ballestero told NRK Friday evening. “The demands made by the employees (the pilots) are fundamental. We will ask our members around Europe for help.”

The strike has been brewing for months. Norwegian Air had been a spirited and successful low-fare airline with generally happy Scandinavian employees until it began expanding through the use of subsidiaries that hired cheaper crews, in Spain for example, through crewing agencies. A major intercontinental expansion two years ago, using even cheaper Asian crews on its flights, has proven troublesome and far more costly than expected for the airline. Management then began trying to bring down the costs of its Scandinavian pilots and flight attendants. The airline reported a huge loss for 2014.

Efforts to cut pilots’ pensions, pay, benefits and insurance costs have led to months of labour tension and negotiations that stranded, leading to the mandatory arbitration that began on Thursday. On Friday, state mediator Dalseide characterized the talks as “difficult” before the strike was announced shortly after midnight.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund