‘Shameful’ SMS infuriated cabin crews

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Tensions between Norwegian Air and its flight attendants in Norway and Denmark have been high for months, but hit the breaking point late Tuesday night, when Norwegian management sent an allegedly “shameful” and threatening SMS (text message) to all employees in the company. State broadcaster NRK obtained a copy of the message, which warned of drastic measures if the Norwegian flight attendants failed to withdraw their demand that their current work situation be maintained.

In it, Norwegian’s management claimed that all Norwegian Air cabin crew bases would be dissolved with the exception of the one at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen. Cabin crews based in Copenhagen would also be “outsourced,” as the flight attendants themselves have feared, to the employment agency Proffice. Finally, Norwegian’s management warned that all employee discounts on airline tickets would be halted for three years.

“That didn’t exactly help the negotiating climate,” Turid Svendsen, lead negotiator for the flight attendants in Norway, told NRK, after her labour organization Parat called a strike at 1:17am on Wednesday. “I’ve been in this business for 23 years and have never experienced anything like it. We’re talking about an employer who, just hours before a strike deadline, sends a message to all employees with threats about shutting down crew bases, outsourcing employees to crewing agencies and withdrawal of employee ticket benefits. It’s simply unheard of, and shameful.”

Svendsen said the threatening  message that seemed to pit employee groups against one another was so upsetting that it only added to the conflict at hand. “Now we need some time to digest what happened last night,” Svendsen told NRK Wednesday morning. “This isn’t something we’re accustomed to, not even those of us who deal with labour conflicts every day.”

Anne-Sissel Skånvik, communications director for Norwegian Air, refused to apologize for the unusual text message sent to the mobile phones of all Norwegian employees that upset many of them. “It was completely necessary,” Skånvik insisted to NRK, contending that the measures spelled out in it reflected a decision made by Norwegian’s board of directors.

“It would have been unheard of if we had not informed the employees of a board decision,” Skånvik said. “We had to release this information.”

Skånvik also has countered the flight attendants’ claim that their demand to maintain their current work terms with Norwegian as their employer wouldn’t cost the airline anything extra. She said there would “major consequences” if employees try to overturn a board decision made last year to reorganize the company, though a new holding company with operating subsidiaries. She said the reorganization forms the basis for the airline’s future financing of its new fleet of aircraft.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund