Another union agrees to SAS cuts

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UPDATED: The union representing Norwegian flight attendants at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has become the latest labour organization to agree to pay and pension cuts at the crisis-hit carrier.  That left the airline’s future in the hands of their colleagues in Denmark Monday morning, after a dramatic weekend of negotiations to keep the airline from being grounded.

After teetering on the brink of bankruptcy throughout the weekend, SAS flights were due to operate pretty much as usual on Monday. The deeply troubled airline’s banks allowed talks with SAS’ unions to continue through the night, but passengers still faced uncertainty as intense negotiations over SAS’ survival went on.

Norwegian Trade Minister Trond Giske told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) just before 9am that he was “optimistic” SAS would avoid bankruptcy. He represents the Norwegian government’s ownership stake in the airline that has faced severe turbulence in adjusting to airline deregulation and the emergence of low-fare carriers over the past decade.

There had been no confirmation of either a rescue or a bankruptcy by the time a deadline for acceptance of SAS’ massive cost cutting program ran out on Sunday. Key unions had initially rejected SAS’ demands for pay cuts, longer working hours and poorer pensions, clouding the future of the airline.

By early Monday morning, though, several other powerful unions had agreed to go along with the cuts claimed to be necessary to keep SAS flying. They included the pilots’ unions in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Frustration and uncertainty
Only one flight from Oslo was cancelled because of a lack of personnel Monday morning, a 7:40am departure to Copenhagen. There were several other cancellations throughout SAS’ route system, though, and frustrated passengers due to leave on trips were left wondering whether they’d get home.

Prospects brightened Monday morning when more unions signed new agreements to cut costs that have been demanded not only by SAS management but by SAS’ financiers and owners, which include the three Scandinavian governments of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

By 6:30am on Monday, SAS lacked only the approvals of two of its unions (fagforeninger) following a long night of talks. NRK reported that six of eight had approved new contracts with SAS, with one representative saying “we signed to saved our jobs.”

Only the unions representing the Norwegian and Danish flight attendants were still holding out after the Swedish union sent out a “flash” on the social media site Twitter that it had come on board. The Norwegians’ union leader told NRK the flight attendants had struck a deal with SAS that went along with pay and pension cuts that, after negotiations, weren’t as big as those SAS management had initially demanded.

SAS itself wasn’t providing details of the progress of the negotiations, and even had initially kept the location of meetings on Sunday secret. Much of the information coming out was based on social media reports from SAS personnel involved in the talks, which were described as both “difficult” and “painful.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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