Unions urge sympathy strikes for pilots

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A pilots’ strike against Norwegian Air was set to escalate further, after the Nordic transport workers’ federations urged their 48 unions to in turn call their members out on sympathy strikes. A coordinated action in the other Nordic countries could ground Norwegian Air entirely.

It was the latest move in a bitter labour conflict that seemed more deadlocked than ever on Tuesday. Instead of meeting up for more negotiations with Norwegian Air’s management and employers’ organization NHO Luftfart, trade union federation YS/Parat called fellow union leaders from Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark to a meeting in Oslo.

The initial stated goal was to keep Norwegian Air from hiring in other means of transportation for stranded passengers. The unions claim that amounts to strike-busting, a claim the airline strongly denies.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the sympathy strikes threatened on Tuesday could involve as many as 360,000 members of unions attached to the transport workers’ federations. That could prevent Norwegian Air from, for example, chartering the bus it did on Monday to transport stranded airline passengers from Bergen to Oslo.

“The unions can’t sit still and watch strike-busting without being able to act,” Parat leader Hans-Erik Skjæggerud stated in a press release.

It remained unclear how sympathetic passengers will be towards any sympathy strikers. Norwegian Air’s boss Bjørn Kjos has long been a popular executive in Norway and some passengers have expressed support for him even as they waited hours at Oslo’s airport after their flights were delayed or cancelled. Some members of the Norwegian Pilot Union themselves have criticized their own union’s demands as unreasonable, and want to get back to work.

The union leaders claim that’s what they want as well, but on terms they demand to preserve the “Nordic model” for working conditions. Peter Lövkvist of the Nordiska Transportarbeterfederationen told NRK that instead of escalating the strike, “we hope this can contribute towards a faster solution.” He conceded that Tuesday’s meeting was an attempt to portray solidarity among the trade union federations in the Nordic countries. “We want to protect the Nordic model, that employees have a permanent employer,” Lövkvist told NRK.

He refused to take any responsibility for the risk that the sympathy can force Norwegian into bankruptcy. “That responsibility does not lie with me,” he told news bureau NTB. “But it can be the consequence, yes.”

Norwegian Air officials have already said that the meeting alone made things worse instead of better, and that they will continue efforts to get their airline passengers to their destinations.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund