Negotiations drag on at Norwegian

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UPDATED: Sunday’s midnight strike deadline came and went in the ongoing conflict between Norwegian Air and 603 of its pilots in Scandinavia. By Monday morning negotiations were running many hours into overtime, and were set to continue until 9:30am, as uncertainty remained over whether the pilots would walk off the job.

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

Norwegian’s pilots earlier won a pensions dispute with their employer but are now at odds over the airline’s planned restructuring that would leave them working in a subsidiary they equate to a mere crewing agency. They fear that will ultimately threaten their pay and benefits. PHOTO: Norwegian Air/Hans Olav Nyborg

A strike would ground most flights at Norwegian’s airport bases in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Its troubled long-haul flights would continue, since they’re operated mostly by non-union crews through a subsidiary, but domestic traffic and routes within Europe would be seriously disrupted.

All operations were continuing as normal Monday morning, despite the uncertainty. Passengers were advised to show up as scheduled and proceed with check-in, even though a strike could be called at any time.

A state mediator was in charge of the negotiations through the weekend between pilots’ union Parat and employers’ organization NHO Luftfart. It was clear both sides were wearing down through the night. Mediator Nils Dalseide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “the mood was good” and there’d been some progress on pay issues, and they were heavily into overtime talks “because there’s a possibility of reaching a settlement.”

Disagreement continued, however, over what the pilots called “matters of principle,” mostly over the airline’s plans to restructure operations through new subsidiaries that the Scandinavian pilots fear will threaten their pay, working conditions and benefits. The new subsidiaries have been likened to crewing agencies aimed at keeping the airline’s costs down, not least through more employment of non-Scandinavian crews willing to work for far less than Norwegian, Swedish and Danish pilots and flight attendants.

Specifically, Norwegian wants to split its current labour agreements (called tariffavtaler) in three among its Danish, Norwegian and Swedish pilots. At the same time the airline wants to transfer its pilots to the newly formed crewing company that would be able to free itself of the pilots’ agreements.

Norwegian management has claimed that’s the only way the airline can continue to offer low fares and remain profitable. Others believe the practice would clear the way for what they call social dumping, and one major union called last week for a boycott of the airline, after news broke that Norwegian’s Thai crews on its long-haul flights were earning a fraction of its Scandinavian crews.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund