Norwegian Air pilots agreed on Tuesday to take potentially crippling strike action in support of the airline’s flight attendants, after labour negotiations between management and cabin crew ground to a halt last week. The Norwegian Pilots Union (NPU) said it was “shocked” by management’s treatment of cabin staff, and asked the attendants’ trade union, Parat, to take the necessary steps to allow pilots to go out in sympathy.
The NPU covers about 650 of the airline’s pilots in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, reported newspaper Aftenposten. The cabin crew strike which began last week only involved the symbolic removal of one flight attendant. That meant flights have continued as normal, albeit under the threat of escalated action involving 1,200 Norwegian and Danish cabin crew. If the cabin crew’s strike expands and then the pilots refuse to work, it would immediately paralyze Norwegian Air.
“We will follow the rules which apply to a conflict and a work stoppage warning from the pilots will be sent,” said Halvor Vatnar, the head of the NPU. “We will then be able to take sympathy action 14 days after the warning is sent. We hope we can avoid taking action to support those who work in the cabin. We hope that our notice today speeds up efforts to get a negotiated settlement.”
Vatnar said he was shocked by Norwegian Air’s handling of the negotiations with its Norwegian and Danish cabin crews. Talks broke down last week after unions said management had shown an “utter lack of willingness” to deal with attendants’ concerns, mainly involving the transfer of staff to new subsidiaries of two holding companies, called Cabin Services Norway and Cabin Services Denmark. It’s feared staff would then be transferred to crewing agencies, threatening their accrued wages and benefits. Unions are seeking to secure attendants’ current labour contracts with Norwegian Air.
“In our opinion the demands of the cabin crew’s union are reasonable and will not have an impact on the company’s costs beyond what they already have today,” Vatnar said. “The principle of permanent employment where there is a fixed need for manpower, the company has already signed onto and it cannot possibly be a contentious question.”
Torbjørn Lothe from NHO Luftfart is in charge of negotiations from the employer’s side. He refused to comment on Tuesday about the threatened pilot action, but said a meeting would be held on Thursday between the major organizations. “At this meeting we will then get clarification over whether the terms for a sympathy action are present,” he said. “If we find that they are, it concerns a 14 day notice period which is then triggered.”
Management hopes to avoid disruption
The decision by cabin staff in Norway to implement strike action triggered a mediation deadline for Danish crews. The Danish staff had 14 days to reach an agreement, following the breakdown of the talks in Norway on Tuesday night last week. A similar strike in Denmark needs a five-day notice period, with Parat threatening 1,200 Norwegian Air cabin staff from Norway and Denmark could then walk of the job.
Danish negotiators were however waiting for their Norwegian counterparts to reach a solution. “It can seem as if some of the parties in Norway are more concerned with ending in conflict than finding a solution,” Asbjørn Jensen told Aftenposten after the strike broke out last week, and said he had not immediately called the parties to mediation. “In fact, I’m sitting now and awaiting what happens in Norway. The model must be to find a solution for the more than 1,000 Parat members in Norway first.”
Norwegian Air officials have noted on the airline’s website that no short-term operations had been affected, but apologized to customers for the uncertainty caused by the ongoing conflict. “We will provide more information to customers as soon as we know the extent of the strike, should it escalate,” the company wrote. “At present, this is still unclear. In Denmark, the conflict has been postponed by the Danish mediator, so in the short term, the company’s operations from Denmark will not be affected.”
“We would like to say we’re sorry to all our passengers for the uncertainty this has caused,” the statement read. “We are working on alternative solutions to minimize the consequesnces of a potential escalation of the strike.” Norwegian Air said its long-haul routes from Scandinavia to the US and Asia would not be affected, or flights operated by staff based in Stockholm, Helsinki, London and Spain.