Easter holiday travelers were spared, but passengers holding tickets on SAS flights from Friday morning face plenty of turbulence if SAS’ pilots in Scandinavia opt to go on strike. Mediation was due to begin Wednesday, in an effort to avoid airline chaos in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
“We hope we come to an agreement,” SAS spokesman Knut Morten Johansen told news bureau NTB on Tuesday. “It’s too early to say how this will affect traffic.”
It’s likely to be severely disrupted if 1,500 SAS pilots based in SAS’ home territory leave their cockpits. Around 550 of them are threatening to strike in Norway alone.
Several issues are on the the table, but the pilots mostly want more predictability in their work schedules. NTB reported that SAS pilots normally don’t know when or how long they’ll be expected to work from month to month. They’re only guaranteed one free weekend a month, and can end up working seven weekends in a row.
The pilots’ unions thus cancelled their last three-year collective bargaining agreement a year before it was due to expire, and claim to be ready for battle. The airline, which has been emerging from years of heavy losses and still faces tough competition from low-fare carriers, responded by also cancelling other central agreements it has had with its pilots regarding career development, seniority and roles tied to duty shifts.
Also want major pay hike
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported earlier this month that the pilots in Norway also want pay raises of around 10 percent, even though they already rank among the 10 work groups earning the most in Norway, with average pay of just under NOK 90,000 (nearly USD 11,000) per month. The pilots argue that their pay has lagged behind wage development because of cuts taken when SAS was in crisis. They also point to SAS executives’ pay, with CEO Rickard Gustafson’s rising 38 percent over the past three years.
While their work schedules are unpredictable, DN reported that an SAS pilot works an average of 179 days a year, compared to around 220 for most other workers. That’s because of regulatory limits on actual flight time of a maximum 900 hours per year. SAS pilots, according to DN, are actually in the cockpit around 690 hours a year, or 58 hours a month.
SAS management is now trying to assert more control over their pilots, while also offering job guarantees for the rest of their careers. It’s a proverbial carrot not unlike what pilots at rival Norwegian Air demanded, but failed to receive, when they went on strike four years ago. At the same time, SAS pilots are uneasy over how SAS management has, like Norwegian, set up operations in Ireland that allow them to hire in non-Scandinavian crews at lower cost.
‘A lot of distance between us’
The pilots have long been powerful in SAS, with their unions in each Scandinavian country gathered under an umbrella organization called SAS Pilot Group. It consists of the pilots’ unions in Sweden and Denmark plus two in Norway. Some of SAS’ Norwegian pilots are organized through the LO trade union Norsk Flygerforbund, while others are members of Norsk Pilotforbund in the labour organization Parat.
All involved negotiated for many weeks before the first strike warning was called on April 1. Now the Norwegian pilots’ organizations will head into meetings with SAS management and a state mediator Wednesday, in an effort to iron out their differences.
“There’s been a lot of distance between us all along,” Jan Levi Skogvang of the Norsk Pilotforbund told NTB. “We hope SAS re-evaluates its position regarding the cancelled agreements, so we can reach an agreement before the mediation deadline runs out.” If not, SAS passengers can face cancelled or severely delayed flights from Friday morning.