Talks to end pilot strike ‘complicated’

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UPDATED: The state mediator guiding renewed talks between Norwegian Air and their striking pilots said late Friday that negotiations were “complicated.” After 10 hours of going through the issues, no settlement was in sight by midnight.

Mediator Nils Dalseide told reporters at around 11pm Friday that the “mood was good” and both sides were “working hard” to end the conflict that has grounded Norwegian Air’s Scandinavian flights and disrupted travel for around 100,000 people since the strike began last weekend. “These are complicated questions that we’re working with continually,” Dalseide said.

The union representing striking Norwegian Air pilots sat down with the mediator and the airline’s management Friday afternoon, just a day after the pilots’ strike escalated amidst a war of words.

“Both sides asked that we resume negotiations on a jointly agreed platform,” Dalseide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). When the talks continued after the first hour without breaking down, it appeared both sides had agreed on the platform.  At least they kept talking.

Breakthrough
As the bitter strike dragged into its sixth day, the tone among those involved had suddenly turned more conciliatory overnight. The talks, which began at 1pm, were viewed as a breakthrough in the strike that continued to ground most all Norwegian Air flights in Scandinavia on Friday.

The new talks involve both the labour organization representing the pilots, Parat, and the employers’ organization representing Norwegian, NHO Luftfart. Officials from Norwegian Air’s management and the Norwegian Pilot Union were also taking part in the meeting, Dalseide said.

Both sides claimed they’d wanted to return to the bargaining table all along, but couldn’t agree on an agenda. The pilots continued to demand that they be employed directly through the airline’s parent company, while management insisted on employment through various subsidiaries set up in accordance with specific operations. That, management argues, affords the airline more flexibility and less risk in a highly competitive international business.

Fury died down
On Thursday, pilots were enraged by the airline’s move to set up three new subsidiaries into which the pilots would be divided based on whether they’re Norwegian, Danish or Swedish. The pilots’ union leader, Hans-Erik Skjæggerud, likened the move to Norwegian “holding a gun against our heads” and he claimed Norwegian’s CEO Bjørn Kjos had no legal right to “decide over us while we’re on strike.”

On Friday Skjæggerud had softened his tone, as another 40,000 Norwegian passengers had their travel plans disrupted by cancellations and delays. “We accept that we must negotiate if passengers are to be able to fly again,” he told NRK Friday morning. “We hope Bjørn Kjos also accepts that.”

He also accepted criticism over his language on Thursday and agreed that “things could have been done differently.” The most important thing, he added, “was to get back to the bargaining table.” The union has also been criticized for going on strike when Norwegian’s Scandinavian pilots already enjoy relatively high pay and what one pilot himself called “probably some of the best working conditions in the industry.”

Future of the airline at stake
Kjos had been calling for new talks all week long, not least in a live debate program on NRK Thursday night where he and Skjæggerud appeared together for the first time. By the end of the debate, which included several other labour and business leaders, there were no clear signs the two sides had come any closer.

Both realize the passengers are suffering most of all, as are employees of other firms doing business with Norwegian who are being laid off because of the strike. The airline planned to try running a few flights between Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen on Friday, but otherwise the flights that should have been crewed by members of the Norwegian Pilot Union were parked.

Kjos has argued that future of the airline is at stake. “The alternative is that we no longer have a company,” said Kjos, who has claimed the union has been trying to assume commercial management of the company, a claim the union denies.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund