The threat of yet another strike by pilots at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) next week has been averted. The pilots’ unions could confirm on Saturday that a majority of them had approved a new if controversial contract with SAS’ management, and they will keep flying.
They’ve been evaluating the new contract and voting on it individually over the past two weeks. Many had harshly criticized it in local media, claiming they effectively were being forced to buy back their jobs. They weren’t as unhappy with pay cuts and the contract’s five-year term as they were with principles at stake, which they claimed threatened Scandinavian labour models.
Officials of the four unions representing pilots at SAS could announce after voting ended at midnight Friday that a majority of the Norwegian pilots had opted to accept the new contract. A “large” majority of Swedish and Danish pilots have accepted its terms, too.
“Many have voted against their own will, and voted more with their heads than their hearts,” Jan Levi Skogvang, leader of one of SAS’ two Norwegian pilots unions, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Others have voted in solidarity with those who were laid off.” They’ll now be getting their jobs back, albeit at lower pay and longer weekly work shifts.
SAS, meanwhile, remains in what Skogvang calls a “difficult” economic situation, adding that the alternative (rejecting the contract) involved lots of uncertainty. SAS is currently in bankruptcy proceedings that protects it from creditors but from which it must emerge as a viable concern.
The pilots’ 15-day strike at the height of the summer holiday season in July generated new, huge losses for the SAS. Nearly 4,000 flights were cancelled and at least 380,000 passengers were affected, costing the airline well over SEK 1 billion. Now the airline also faces large compensation claims from passengers left stranded who had to buy new airline tickets and pay for emergency hotel accommodation.
SAS has so far been slow to address the compensation claims pouring in but is legally obligated to meet them. Norway’s state aviation authority Luftfartstilsynet has asked SAS to handle the claims in a more speedy manner, and will be monitoring SAS’ response.
NRK reported that after receiving several complaints from SAS passengers, the authority has sent a written warning to SAS management demanding that compensation be paid out. Customers can demand that refunds be paid out within seven days of a flight cancellation, and the aviation authority is not granting any deadline extensions.
Nina B Vindvik, judicial director at the aviation authority, told NRK that it understands SAS has been all but overwhelmed by demand for compensation. It’s nonetheless important, Vindvik said, that SAS puts more resources into meeting the demands. Norway’s consumer affairs council has also been overwhelmed by complaints from SAS passengers whose trips were ruined and became more costly because of the pilots’ strike.
SAS has responded it will answer the aviation authority’s letter and claims it has tripled its customer service staffing to handle the compensation claims. “We expect SAS to do everything in its power to secure the rights of its passengers and that compensation is paid out without unnecessary delay,” Vindvik told NRK.