Norwegian Air strike expands
Some 700 pilots will be on industrial action this week if no agreement is reached
The strike currently affecting the low-cost carrier concerns pay, pensions, and insurance expenses, as well as who is the pilots’ employer.
Norwegian wants to freeze wages and reduce amounts paid to so-termed Loss of License insurance. This scheme protects pilots and their families from the financial consequences due to being certified by company doctors to be temporarily or permanently unfit to fly due to accident or illness.
Norwegian Pilots Union (NPU) members are currently employed through Scandinavia subsidiary Norwegian Air Norway (NAN) instead of Norway-registered Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS). They are dissatisfied about this, and are demanding a “real employer” as part of their dispute.
70 pilots went out on strike at the weekend after mediation talks between NPU/Parat and NAN failed.
Norwegian flew in pilots from their subsidiary companies in Finland and Spain in order to provide as near as normal traffic as possible. Unions accused the airline of strike-breaking.
More Norwegian pilots will join their colleagues if industrial action is widened from Wednesday.
The Norwegian Board is holding an emergency meeting, Monday, to discuss whether or not to declare NAN bankrupt.
Pilots’ existing contracts could also be replaced with agreements via staffing group OSM, Dagbladet reports.
OSM offers services within ship, crew, and offshore management and aviation.
Norwegian reported losses of NOK 1.6 billion last year (some USD 208.52 million / EUR 185.91 million), CEO Bjørn Kjos tells the publication. Industrial action and long-distance Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes experiencing issues, affecting passengers, also hit the airline.
Calling the current union-Norwegian deadlock “a challenging situation,” Kjos adds that “we can’t sit and watch a union in a subsidiary company act in a way that means we risk all the jobs in the company.”
Norwegian is also tightening procedures regarding pilot and cabin personnel illness at this strike time. Sunday saw increased numbers of self-certification of sickness absences (egenmelding), according to the airline. This led to delays and cancellations to flights departing from airports in Norway.
NRK reports that these absences will now only be accepted if a doctor’s certificate is produced, effective immediately. The move applies to air personnel at the company’s bases in Scandinavia.
According to the email that they have seen, employees are warned that absence with no medical documentation will have job-related consequences.
The Norwegian Pilots Union’s Halvor Vatnar tells The Foreigner that the sickness level reporting threshold level is lower for aircrew than others. Going to work with a cold or sinusitis, for example, could have potentially serious consequences if any incident should occur during a flight.
“We operate with a very high level of situation and safety awareness. An explosive decompression, under which one window is blown out and the cabin air pressure rockets from 8,000 to 40,000 feet, could cause someone suffering from this to fall unconscious or suffer brain or ear damage,” he says.
Meanwhile, 750 cabin personnel in Norway and Denmark warn that they will stage a sympathy strike from Friday March 13.
Parat union leader Hans-Erik Skjæggerud tells The Foreigner that the statutory 14-day warning notice has been sent to employers’ organization the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO).
“They [cabin personnel] have a legal right to strike. Union-busting is not popular, and I’m not sure Norwegian realize what implications this will have in the rest of the world.”
The current pilots’ strike has the support of the European Transport Workers’ Federation. It does not affect Norwegian’s flights between Scandinavia / England or the U.S. / Asia. The airline advises passengers to check the status of their flights on the company’s website.
“We would like to apologize to our passengers for the uncertainty this situation has caused. Our goal has always been to avoid a strike. Our wish has been to work out a common platform that takes into account the tough competition in the industry, secure everyone’s jobs and build a strong company for the future,” CEO Bjørn Kjos says in a statement.
“We will now do everything we can to ensure that all our passengers are taken care of in the best possible way.”
Regarding the self-certification of sickness absence issue, Norwegian information manager Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen tells The Foreigner that “we adhere to the National Insurance Scheme’s (Folketrygden) provisions.”
“These state that the employer has the right to ask for a medical certificate if they have reasonable grounds to assume that the absence is not due to illness.”
It also appeared in the March 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.