Widerøe on strike, flights grounded

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Flight attendants for the Norwegian commuter airline Widerøe went on strike Wednesday, stranding an estimated 11,000 passengers on the eve of the long Ascension Day holiday weekend. All flights by the carrier, which serves many small and often remote communities around the country, were grounded.

Widerøe serves 42 airports in Norway and northern Europe, many of them located in areas that have few other flight options. A strike by cabin crews grounded all Widerøe flights on Wednesday. PHOTO: Widerøe

Widerøe serves 42 airports in Norway and northern Europe, many of them located in areas that have few other flight options. A strike by cabin crews grounded all Widerøe flights on Wednesday. PHOTO: Widerøe

The strike comes just days after it was announced that the profitable airline, which has been owned by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), is in the process of being sold to a Norwegian investor group. The sale is part of efforts to restore the fortunes of financially troubled SAS.

The strike compounds problems for passengers using several small airports in northern Norway that already have been closed for nearly two months by another strike by their ground services workers. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on its nightly newscast Dagsrevy Tuesday that the airport strike was raising serious health concerns for passengers who need to fly to regional hospitals for various treatments. The only alternative for many has been long bus rides and flights from other airports.

Widerøe officials claimed the strike by their 312 flight attendants would now lead to greater health concerns, suggesting the government may need to step in to end it through mandatory arbitration. Norway’s left-center Labour-led government is generally reluctant to take such action in labour conflicts, but has done it before.

Pension problem
The flight attendants are striking for the right to determine their own pension programs. “Today only the pilots have negotiating rights over their pensions,” the flight attendants’ lead negotiator in their labour organization Parat, Lars Petter Larsen, told NRK Wednesday morning. Parat believes the flight attendants, the vast majority of whom are women, should have the same pension rights.

“We are very sorry that our passengers are affected by this conflict, but we have no other alternative than to strike when the employer simply dismisses our demand,” Larsen said after negotiations broke down just before 3am.

Widerøe officials, claiming they were “shocked” by the strike, countered that they can’t understand why the airline’s flight attendants would walk off the job when they already have what Widerøe claimed were “the best” wages and pension program among airlines in Europe. Widerøe’s management said they want to keep pension programs separate from wage negotiations as “a matter of principle.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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