New strike threat looms at SAS

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Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is facing more turbulence this spring, just a year after striking pilots grounded most all flights in and out of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Now it’s SAS’ flight attendants who want more predictable work schedules and higher pay, and their current contract expires on March 31.

Relations between SAS flight attendants and management appear frosty, as both sides head into labour negotiations next month. The threat of a new strike at SAS looms after the Easter holidays. PHOTO: Oslo Lufthavn AS

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) warned its readers this week that everyone planning airine trips after the Easter holidays should brace for possible disruption. Last year’s pilots’ strike ruined trips for thousands of people flying in and out of Scandinavia on SAS, and now many of the same complaints are being aired by SAS cabin crews.

Most receive their work schedules for the next month, for example, only 15 days before the month begins. That makes it difficult to make many personal plans, not least because many flight attendants are also called on to work three out of four weekends a month.

A majority of flight attendants want more permanent duty schedules, while SAS management wants to retain as much flexibility as possible. That’s put the cabin crews at odds with their bosses.

‘Important’ issues
“The burden on cabin crews is heavy,” Nina N Pedersen, leader of one of the flight attendants’ labour federation, Kabinansattes forbund, told DN. It organizes SAS employees through the largest of the two flight attendant unions, Norsk Kabinforening. SAS needs to negotiate new labour contracts with both it and SAS Norge Kabinforening plus the flight attendant unions in Denmark and Sweden.

“Most of us have little influence over the balance between job- and personal time, and that’s an important issue in these negotiations,” Pedersen told DN. “Pay and benefits are also important.”

Pedersen stressed that it was too early to go into detail about the flight attendants’ demands, while SAS reported that negotiations have not yet begun. Talks are due to begin in Denmark in February and “a bit later” in Norway and Sweden, Marianne Hernæs of SAS told DN. She will lead negotiations on behalf of the airline and said that SAS’s goals are are currently being formulated.

Easter holidays likely spared
Talks will begin before the current contracts run out but probably won’t end until after Easter, which lands on April 12 this year. That means travel during the Easter holidays, which officially run from April 9 through April 13, isn’t likely to be affected. The strike threat looms for the period right after Easter and into early May.

“The willingness to fight (for better work schedules and pay) is strong,” Martinus Røkkum, leader of the other Norwegian union SAS Norge Kabinforening, told DN. “We’re paying attention to what the pilots experienced during their negotiations last year, and hope for a good result.

Røkkum predicted that negotiations would be “demanding,” but he said “we hope we will achieve our goals without passengers being affected.” He noted, however, that  “our workdays now are highly unpredictable and we want to to be part of influencing when we can have time off to a greater degree.”

Other Norwegian airlines also face negotiations
Around two-thirds of all SAS flight attendants currently work in a flexible scheduling system, in which they can only have influence over three concrete days of those they have off each month. SAS management wants the majority to work 90 percent of a full schedule during the summer high season, and less in the off season during winter. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has earlier reported that SAS won’t offer the same terms offered pilots that finally ended their strike last year. All agreed it had been a costly dispute that also hit passengers hard.

Flight attendants at both Norwegian Air and domestic airline Widerøe, meanwhile, will also be negotiating new contracts this spring. Both airlines also face demanding rounds of negotiations on other thorny issues such as pension and new competition from labour pools outside Norway that often are willing to work for less pay and lower benefits. DN reported, howver, that all the recent economic and aircraft problems at Norwegian have reduced the threat of a strike among airline employees.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund