Up, up and away: Pilot strike is over

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Norwegian Air and its striking pilots finally landed on a settlement Tuesday, 11 days after the pilots walked off the job and later sat down for a short-lived session with a state mediator. Flights were expected to start taking off again on schedule from Wednesday afternoon.

Norwegian Air hoped to have all its flights flying again by late Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air hoped to have all its flights flying again by late Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Details of the settlement remained sketchy, but Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos said the Scandinavian pilots were given job guarantees for three years. The head of the pilots’ union’s labour federation Parat, Hans-Erik Skjæggerud, said the union had received the ties to the parent company that it had sought.

“We’re ready to fly again,” Kjos said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “It will be very good to get back to our routines and avoid causing problems for our passengers. I’m very sorry about all the problems this has created.”

Kjos also said that the settlement lowers costs for the airline at a time when it faces tougher competition than ever and lost NOK 1.6 billion last year. The pilots, for example, agreed to move over to a pension plan that will reduce risk and lower costs for the airline. The cost of the pilots’ Loss of License insurance was also cut.

In return, the pilots received guarantees of job security for the next three years. Kjos insisted that he and his management did not give away what they call “commercial steering” of the company. He said it was too early to calculate what the strike itself had cost the company.

The strike had crippled the once-high-flying Norwegian, grounding aircraft tied to its Norwegian Air Norway (NAN) subsidiary that employs the pilots and cancelling nearly all the airline’s flights within Scandinavia since February 28. The disruption began when the Norwegian Pilot Union (NPU) called a strike after the union’s demand that its members be employed directly through Norwegian’s parent company instead of the subsidiary was not met.

Rumbling within the ranks of the pilots themselves began to emerge by mid-week, though, and it became clear that not all the pilots supported their union’s tough stance. One claimed publicly that “we probably have some of the best working conditions in the industry,” and on Thursday, Norwegian revealed average pay and working conditions for the pilots’ group that management claimed was endangering jobs within the entire company.

The strike continued, however, with this past weekend characterized by marathon negotiations that broke off but started up again, only to be suspended late Sunday afternoon. Since then, contact appeared to be sporadic before Norwegian Air declared the strike was deadlocked and sought arbitration. That was rejected by the pilots’ union.

Labour leaders at the Norwegian Pilot Union and its trade union federation YS/Parat claimed the pilots were united in their demands, and on Tuesday they assembled labour leaders from all five Nordic countries to discuss how to prevent alleged strike-busting by Norwegian Air. That infuriated airline officials, who said the meeting “only made things worse,” and claimed the union should be negotiating with them, not planning more damaging moves toward the airline.

The union leaders then announced plans to launch sympathy strikes, even though public support for the pilots did not appear to be strong.

By 7pm, the strike was suddenly over. Norwegian Air vowed to get its flights back in the air as soon as possible, and hoped that schedules would return to some sense of normalcy by late Wednesday. Passengers can continue to check the status of their flights here (external link to Norwegian’s own website).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund