Talks broke down, pilot strike goes on

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UPDATED: Norwegian Air CEO Bjørn Kjos and the leader of the airline’s pilots’ union were blaming each other on Saturday for an early-morning collapse of negotiations to end a bitter pilots’ strike. More talks loomed later in the afternoon, as the strike continued and another 20,000 passengers were stranded.

The collapse came after 16 hours of negotiations that extended through the night. State mediator Nils Dalseide reported that the two sides were deadlocked at around 5:30am and talks broke off, with “no basis” even for a temporary solution that could end the strike and get Norwegian flights back in the air.

Kjos later called the situation “terribly sad and stupid,” and claimed the pilots’ union made “impossible demands. “We can’t offer things that aren’t sustainable in the future,” Kjos told reporters early Saturday afternoon. Hans-Erik Skjæggerud of the union’s labour federation YS/Parat claimed the union had no faith in what Norwegian Air did offer.

‘Good mood’ turned sour
Dalseide, who had described the talks as “complicated” just before midnight, said he had to declare that further mediation at this point would not lead to a “reasonable solution” that would end the conflict. The pilots and management simply remained too far apart to carry on with their talks.

Dalseide said, though, that the “mood and dialogue” during the talks that began at 1pm Friday were “both good and constructive” for a long time, even though the tone between the two sides has been harsh in public during the past week.

News bureau NTB reported, however, that the good mood turned sour during the night and was “extremely bad” just before the breakdown in talks was declared. Pizza and sodas delivered to the hungry and weary negotiators at around 2:30am failed to revive spirits. Kjos and Skjæggerud later had very different versions of the talks and what was on offer.

Some movement, new alternatives
“We came closer than we were in the beginning, but not close enough to a solution,” Dalseide told NTB. Norwegian management officials expressed disappointment while Skjæggerud said both sides had moved away from their original demands. “If there’s anything positive today,” the union leader said later, “it’s that there have been 16 hours of talks, and there was some movement.”

He claimed the union had “moved a lot since the earlier round on many different issues, even the one that has been the most important for us, to have an agreement with the (airline’s) parent company (and not a subsdidiary). We presented alternatives where that would be withdrawn, and where we would rather get necessary ties to the company without that limiting the company’s needs but contributing to securing our members’ jobs.” He wouldn’t detail, however, what sort of “ties” that would involve.

Norwegian claimed it had offered the pilots ties to the parent company in the form of job guarantees for three years, even though there were “too many” pilots in the Scandinavian operations. Kjos said the Scandinavian pilots could “take their million-kroner salaries and benefits” to other bases, for example in Spain, and work from there. Norwegian’s management claims it needs such flexibility in order to compete in a tough international market where Norwegian’s costs are too high. Skjæggerud claimed the job guarantees “didn’t hold water” and were rejected. “We’ve lost confidence in Kjos,” he said.

He nonetheless stated repeatedly that the union had invited Norwegian Air negotiators back to the bargaining table, as another 20,000 Norwegian Air ticket holders faced spoiled travel plans on Saturday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund