Flights at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) were due to start taking off again in Norway by mid-afternoon on Thursday, after disgruntled Norwegian pilots finally agreed to a new contract with the airline’s management. A state mediator announced the breakthrough after marathon talks through the night, but the pilots still aren’t completely satisfied.
“We did win acceptance for our most important demands,” claimed the leaders of the two SAS pilots’ unions that have caused great anxiety for tens of thousands of SAS passengers since first threatening to strike nearly three weeks ago. The acceptance, they added, means they could recommend the terms of the new deal to their nearly 600 members who were all poised to walk off the job on Thursday.
The threatened mass escalation of the strike that began on Monday had already compelled SAS to cancel more than 100 flights from early Thursday morning until 2pm. SAS officials said they now expect flights to run as normal from mid-afternoon.
Both sides continued to blame each other for the uncertainty and anxiety forced upon passengers, many of whom cancelled their travel plans in return for full refunds or rebooking at a later date. The pilots’ strike escalation threat also cost SAS dearly because nearly all ticket sales ground to a halt on Tuesday and Wednesday. SAS Chief Executive Rickard Gustafson claimed the strike “threatened the very existence” of SAS, while organizers of the Oslo Marathon and cycling world championships in Bergen this weekend were in despair. The SAS pilots’ strike could have severely disrupted the arrivals of participants in both events.
Jens Lippestad, leader of the union Norsk SAS.flygernes forening (NSF) that’s tied to labour confederation LO, claimed the deal they accepted after 18 hours of negotiations in overtime was the same they’d proposed during the weekend. “In that proposal we had gone a long way to avoid a strike,” Lippestad insisted. “The uncertainty that’s been created the past few days has been, in that sense, completely unnecessary.”
The two union leaders have been the targets of harsh criticism in social media and failed to generate much if any public sympathy for pilots who already have been branded as “privileged” among SAS workers and, with average salaries of around NOK 1 million (well over USD 100,000), among Norwegian workers in general. As they tried to downplay the uproar caused by their strike escalation threat, Jan Levi Skogvang of the other union ScanNor Flygerforening, SNF (tied to labour federation Parat) called the negotiations and mediation “very complicated and difficult.” It was only after mediation resumed on Wednesday that “we have now managed to agree on terms that both sides went for”
Their pilot colleagues in Sweden and Denmark had already come to terms with SAS and said earlier this week that they didn’t fully understand the Norwegian pilots’ reasons for a strike. The SAS pilots in Norway, still upset about SAS’ decision to open new bases in Spain and the UK that can hire crews outside the Scandinavian labour market, had made additional demands for higher pay, more predictable work schedules and more weekends off.
‘We’ll see how this works’
Asked whether the Norwegian union leaders were now satisfied, Skogvang told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “there were great hopes for greater improvements, and we haven’t been able to realize them completely. Now we have to try out what we have achieved and see how this works. I hope the new agreement will at least provide some improvements for our colleagues.”
The new agreement covering all of SAS’ nearly 600 pilots based in Norway is also for three years and will provide pay raises of 6 percent over its three-year term, Skogvang said it is in line with what SAS pilots in Sweden and Denmark accepted.
A SAS spokesperson claimed there had always been “a constructive dialogue in the negotiating rooms” and that made it possible to reach agreement. “We are extremely glad we have a new agreement with the Norwegian pilot unions,” Tonje Sund of SAS told NRK.She also confirmed that the new collective bargaining agreement runs over three years and is comparable to those accepted by all the other SAS pilots.