New offer after arbitration failed

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UPDATED: Pilots at Norwegian Air were handed a new offer late Monday night, aimed at ending their 10-day strike. The offer came after Norwegian Air characterized efforts to end the strike as deadlocked on Monday, and announced plans to file for voluntary arbitration. That would have put a settlement in the hands of an independent commission, but the pilots refused to go along.

Norwegian Air officials are trying to keep the airline for heading off into the sunset. They claim the future of the entire company is at stake. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air officials are trying to keep the airline from heading off into the sunset. They claim the future of the entire company is at stake. The union counters that it’s trying to preserve jobs. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

“The reason (for the move towards arbitration) is that the situation is deadlocked,” Anne-Sissel Skånvik, communications chief for Norwegian Air, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday afternoon. Arbitration would relieve both sides of their rights to end negotiations and let a third party resolve the conflict.

There was no resolution, meaning the strike was set to continue on Tuesday, disrupting travel for another 25,000 passengers and bringing the total number of passengers affected to more than 200,000 since the strike began February 28. New hopes for a settlement emerged late Monday night, though, after lawyers for both Norwegian and the pilots’ union drafted a new offer, details of which weren’t revealed, that was sent to the union. “We absolutely hope to find a solution, we must,” Skånvik told NRK. “This strike has lasted too long and affected far too many.”

Can’t come to terms
Negotiations between the two sides in the bitter strike resumed on Monday after a weekend of marathon talks, but management couldn’t agree to the pilots’ demands for job security. Norwegian Air thus asked employers’ organization NHO Luftfart, which has been negotiating on behalf of the airline, to seek voluntary arbitration.

NHO said it was willing to do that in order to bring an end to the strike that now has stranded nearly 200,000 passengers since it began 10 days ago. “This can resolve the situation, but only if both sides want voluntary arbitration,” said Torbjørn Lothe, managing director of NHO Luftfart.

Labour federation YS/Parat initially said it needed more time to consider the proposal but then its leader went ahead and told news bureau NTB that Parat would not agree to voluntary arbitration. Hans Erik Skjæggerud of Parat noted that arbitration normally applies to wage negotiations, and that wages were not the main cause of the labour conflict between the pilots and Norwegian.

‘Can’t understand’ arbitration request
“The conflict can therefore not be resolved through arbitration,” Skjæggerud told NTB, adding that Parat “can’t understand” Norwegian’s request for arbitration. “We’re still sitting in talks with the company, and this move can damage the negotiations that are going on,” Skjæggerud told NTB. He wouldn’t comment further, but didn’t seem to share Norwegian Air’s assessment that the strike was deadlocked.

The two sides had been relatively quiet since they resumed contact Monday morning, but NRK reported that it was only through email and over the phone. Each blames the other for failing to come to terms.

Skånvik, meanwhile, denied a report in The Sunday Times of London that Norwegian plans to flag out its fleet and become a British company called Westforce Aviation. Skånvik said Norwegian is seeing British authority to expand its already considerable operations from London’s Gatwick Airport, but said “the Norwegian parent company will be in Norway, also in the future.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund