Union: ‘Norwegian Air broke contract’

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The head of the Norwegian Pilot Union claims Norwegian Air broke its collective bargaining contract with the union, by writing directly to its pilots and asking them to sell their days off in return for double overtime pay. The airline wouldn’t comment on the union boss’ claim.

Norwegian Air was still being hit from all sides on Thursday, and faced frosty treatment by investors. PHOTO: Norwegian Air/Jørgen Syversen

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the airline’s direct offer to its pilots, including many who aren’t members of the Norwegian Pilot Union, has raised tensions with the union it’s battled with in the past. The worst battle led to a lengthy pilots strike two years ago. Officials at the union’s labour federation, Parat, are reportedly also unhappy, raising concerns of new labour trouble and possible disruptions at Norwegian Air.

The labour bosses claim the system of offering pilots extra high pay to work during their own holidays, when crew shortages are most likely to occur, is regulated by the collective bargaining agreement between the union and Norwegian Air. Any changes in practice are supposed to be discussed between the two parties, reported DN.

Halvor Vatnar, leader of the Norwegian Pilot Union, didn’t want to comment further on the latest problems that arose when the airline found itself lacking cockpit crews to fly scheduled flights in the busy summer season. Norwegian has been assailed by both the public and investors after it once again scheduled the flights on the assumption pilots would sell their days off if shortages occurred. They didn’t, and Norwegian had to cancel several flights over the weekend and on Monday, stranding passengers and ruining trips for many.

Vatnar, who was busy flying tourists to Crete himself on Tuesday, responded in a text message to one of DN‘s questions, though. Asked whether he thought Norwegian’s offer to pilots had broken its contract with the union, Vatnar responded “Of course it has.”

‘Can’t predict what will happen’
Norwegian’s management, roundly criticized over the need for cancellations and operations that still hinge on pilots working extra, refused to comment on Vatnar’s response. Bjørn Erik Barman-Jenssen, chief executive of Norwegian’s personnel unit Norwegian Air Resources did write, in another text message to DN, that “what’s most important for us now, is to get passengers to their destinations. Therefore management has written to all its pilots to offer considerable compensation for the sale of their days off. We will keep to ourselves what’s under discussion between Norwegian and the union.”

Torbjørn Lothe, chief executive of the employers’ organization NHO’s airline division, which represents Norwegian in labour negotiations, told DN that NHO Luftfart had not been called into the discussions so far. Asked whether he thought the contract had been broken, Lothe said he had no grounds on which to comment in detail.

“The terms declare that if the parties disagree on parts of their contract, the disagreement should be drafted between the employer and the union. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll be involved. I can’t predict what will happen.”

Norwegian’s lucrative offer to all its pilots has helped it avoid further cancellations this week. “In order to pull through the summer without affecting even more passengers, we need your help,” read Norwegian’s letter to the pilots, a copy of which was obtained by DN. “As a compensation to those os you that have the possibility and are willing to help out in this situation, we will honor every Bought Day Off (BDO) with double compensation from Friday the 23rd of June and throughout August. This will of course be handled in accordance with Flight Time Limination (FTL) requirements.”

Investors, analysts unimpressed
Enough pilots chose to accept the offer that operations improved from Tuesday, although some flights were still delayed. Analysts and investors, however, have punished Norwegian by criticizing its operations and selling off shares. Norwegian’s share price tumbled to NOK 236.50 amidst heavy trading on Tuesday, for example, after rising on Monday. Analysts cited the problems around Norwegian’s summer routes that caused the cancellation of 19 flights.

“Norwegian had problems last summer that led to extra costs,” Preben Rasch-Olsen, an airline analyst at Carnegie in Oslo, told DN on Thursday. “I think the stock market hoped it would go better this year.” Norwegian Air’s founder and chief executive Bjørn Kjos had promised it would, but then it didn’t.

Arctic Securities in Oslo, meanwhile, lowered its share price goal for Norwegian Air Shuttle stock from NOK 450 to NOK 350 but maintained a “buy” recommendation. Arctic cited higher consumer confidence in Europe and lower fuel prices, for example, but also stated that the airline must improve its operations.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund