Buses roll, airline strike still looms

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A strike that would have shut down bus service in many parts of Norway on Monday was averted after seven hours of mediation in overtime, but passengers on Norwegian Air still face uncertainty. Flight attendants still may walk off the job from Friday or later in May, if the airline doesn’t drop plans to transfer them out of the main company and into new units where they fear they’ll lose their current pay and benefits.

Norwegian Air has been among the airlines hit hard by air traffic delays in recent weeks, and its executives have been complaining on behalf of frustrated passengers. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air keeps running into severe turbulence, now after planning to transfer flight attendants to new units that they fear will jeopardize their pay and benefits. A new strike threat looms from Friday. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Thousands of passengers on embattled Norwegian Air could breathe a sigh of relief over the weekend when it became clear that there would be no strike from Wednesday. Parat, the labour organization representing Norwegian flight attendants in Norway, decided against filing its four-day advance warning of a strike as it headed into mandatory arbitration Friday with a state mediator, to await results of a demand for separate mediation with Norwegian’s flight attendants based in Denmark.

That averted a threatened strike from Wednesday but the relief was short-lived. Parat and Norwegian were meeting on Monday and Parat can still call a strike at any time with four days notice.

“We’re sorry about the uncertainty this means for innocent third parties (Norwegian’s passengers),” Parat leader Hans-Erik Skjæggerud told news bureau NTB. He blames Norwegian’s management, though, for proposing that flight attendants be transferred to newly established subsidiaries. He and his members fear the pending transfer jeopardizes the pay and benefits they’ve built up over the years with their current official employer.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Saturday that their fears are not unfounded. Documents DN has obtained indicate that the pending transfer to new subsidiaries “Cabin Services Norway” and “Cabin Services Denmark” is a first step in the airline’s ongoing restructuring plans to save costs, with Norwegian then planning to transfer around 200 Danish flight attendants to the employment agency Proffice and lease them back. Despite promises form Norwegian boss Bjørn Kjos that they will retain their current pay and benefits, the flight attendants fear their current work contracts won’t be honoured in the long run, and they’re fighting to keep them.

Norwegian already has been the target of massive protests over its use of Asian crews on its new intercontinental service who are paid a fraction of what Norwegian flight attendants get in Norway. The airline also has been busy setting up crew bases outside Norway, in the US and elsewhere in Europe, where staffing is conducted through crewing agencies. The goal is to keep costs down so Norwegian can continue to offer relatively low fares and compete against other low-fare airlines.

Around 3,400 bus drivers in Norway, meanwhile, remained on the job Monday after their unions reached agreement with bus companies on pay raises and benefits. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that both sides were “reasonably satisfied” and relieved that a strike was averted in several regions of the country including all of Rogaland County (Stavanger), Bergen and much of Hordaland County, Østfold (southeastern Norway), Hedmark, Oppland, Telemark, Agder and parts of the bus services to Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund