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SAS and pilots’ unions confirm end of strike

Scandinavian airline SAS and the unions representing their pilots said early on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement, ending a two-week strike that has cost the ailing airline between 9 and 12 million euros a day.

SAS and pilots' unions confirm end of strike
SAS and Norwegian planes at Stockholm Arlanda in 2020. SAS and pilots' unions on Tuesday ended a two-week-long strike. File photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

The agreement ending the strike after 15 days was confirmed by both the company and the unions after a negotiation session ran through Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday.

“I am pleased to report that we now have come to an agreement with all four pilot unions for SAS Scandinavia and the strike has ended,” chief executive Anko van der Werff said in a statement.

“Finally, we can resume normal operations and fly our customers on their much longed-for summer holidays. I deeply regret that so many of our passengers have been impacted by this strike,” he added.

A new agreement, covering the next five and half years, means that “flights operated by SAS Scandinavia will resume according to their regular traffic program as soon as possible”, the company said.

“SAS pilots have taken responsibility to sign a new agreement with SAS and the strike will cease,” the Swedish Air Line Pilots Association (SPF) said in a separate statement, adding that it had been “an extraordinary and very demanding negotiation.”

Pilots have been striking since July 4th, when nearly 1,000 of them walked off the job after talks broke down.

They were protesting against salary cuts demanded by management as part of a restructuring plan aimed at ensuring the survival of the company, and the firm’s decision not to re-hire pilots laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the new deal, 450 pilots will be re-hired.

One day after the strike began SAS announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, and van der Werff last week warned that the prolonged strike was putting the Chapter 11 process in jeopardy and, “ultimately, the survival of the company at stake”.

When the stoppage was in its tenth day, SAS said it had already cost roughly 1 to 1.3 billion Swedish kronor (94 million to 123 million euros), with more than 2,500 flights cancelled.

The CEO also said the strike also had “a severe impact on our possibilities to succeed with SAS Forward”, the cost-saving programme launched by the ailing company in February.

While the airline said it could meet its obligations in the near term it warned cash reserves “will erode very quickly in the face of a continuing pilot strike”.

SAS, which employs nearly 7,000 people, mainly in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, is also seeking to raise about 9.5 billion kronor in fresh capital.

“We now get on with the important work of progressing our transformation plan SAS FORWARD and building a strong and competitive SAS for generations to come,” van der Werff said on Tuesday.

The summer is shaping up to be difficult overall for European airlines and airports, who are faced with staff shortages that are affecting air traffic.

After widespread job losses linked to Covid-19, airlines and airports are struggling to recruit new staff in many countries.

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: Norway’s plans for a tourist tax 

Norway’s government is looking at options to introduce a tax on tourists and tourism-related activities. Here is what we know so far. 

EXPLAINED: Norway’s plans for a tourist tax 

Around 10 million tourists flock to Norway annually, drawn in by its majestic fjords, world-famous hikes, rugged wilderness and bucket-list activities such as Northern Lights tours. 

Many travellers already remark that the country is incredibly expensive. However, the cost of being a visitor in Norway could soon increase as the government plans to introduce a new tax on tourism-related activities. 

Earlier this week, the minority government consisting of the Labour Party and Centre Party, agreed on a budget for 2023 with the Socialist Left Party. 

Norwegian newswire NTB reports that as part of the agreement, the government would propose introducing a tax on tourism in 2024. The policies will be included in the budget for 2024, which will be presented next autumn. 

A potential tourist tax is still in its early stages, though, with the policy yet to be fully formulated. Still, Norway’s Ministry of Finance has begun exploring options regarding a tourist tax. 

“We have to investigate this and see how such a tax can be designed, both practically and legally. But the idea is that the local communities should be able to be left with more,” Lars Vangen, state secretary in the finance ministry, told NTB. 

The tax could come in the form of tourists paying additional tax on hotels, souvenirs and tourism activities. 

Proposals to pass some of the maintenance and cleaning costs on to tourists have appeared several times in recent years, most recently in the political agreement on which the current government was formed in October last year.

One of the reasons for a tourist tax is that many hotspots are located in small local authorities, where municipalities spend huge amounts each year on the upkeep of attractions, maintenance of key hiking trails and dealing with the pollution and litter caused by visitors.

Earlier this year, the Norwegian region Lofoten, known for its spectacular fjord and mountain scenery, said it would be willing to test-pilot a tourism tax scheme

The Norwegian Hospitality Association (NHO Reiseliv), an employer organisation for the sector, has previously been critical of potential tourist taxes, arguing it would make Norway a less desirable destination. 

READ ALSO: Best things to do in Norway in the winter

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