A strike by one of the two unions representing Norwegian pilots for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was called off on Thursday. Long-haul flights that were affected were due to resume as normal from Friday, after the pilots reportedly gave up many of their demands and decided to hang on to their jobs.
SAS and the pilots had quietly agreed to head into mediation on Wednesday and the acting director of the pilots’ labour federation, Rune Sundland, announced Thursday morning that the strike was over.
“These negotiations have been extremely challenging but we have landed a new agreement,” Sundland stated in a press release. “We are glad the conflict is over.”
The union (Norske SAS-flygeres Forening, NSF) was the only one of four pilots’ unions at SAS in Denmark, Sweden and Norway to walk off the job after SAS cancelled their earlier contracts and demanded a fresh start, with new, much less-detailed agreements that also cut costs for the airline. SAS is literally flying in a highly competitive industry and its survival has been under threat for years, not least because of the lucrative pay and benefit levels built up by pilots and flight attendants who haven’t wanted to give them up. A Norwegian professor warned earlier this week that such pay and benefits are no longer realistic when long-established airlines like SAS have to compete again low-fare carriers with much lower costs.
SAS’ other unions ultimately went along with the new contracts offered but NSF held out for better terms, claiming among other things that the longer hours pilots were being asked to work could threaten safety. The union initially only called six of its pilots who work on intercontinental flights off the job, raising that to 17 during the recent holiday weekend. That ended in cancellations of flights from Oslo and Copenhagen to destinations in the US and Asia.
‘Modern, unifying, historic’ agreement
Details of NSF’s new agreement with SAS remained unclear, but Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that it is nearly identical with an offer that the union earlier had rejected. SAS called it “modern, unifying and historic.”
SAS spokesman Knut Morten Johansen told NRK that SAS had been operating with old, lengthy contracts that had simply been renegotiated for 50 years. “With this new agreement, SAS has a completely new agreement that will unify SAS and make us more competitive in the years ahead,” Johansen told NRK.
The agreement didn’t come in time to prevent the cancellations of four more long-haul flights on Thursday, from Oslo to New York and from Copenhagen to Chicago, Tokyo and Beijing. SAS officials said they hoped the striking pilots would now quickly return to work so that all flight operations would return to normal as soon as possible.