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SAS And Pilot Unions Resume Talks As Crippling Strike Enters 10th Day

By Dave Simpson

Scandinavian airline SAS SAS.ST and unions representing striking pilots resumed talks over a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday 13 July as the walkout entered its 10th day.

Details

The 75-year old airline was struggling even before the pandemic hit in 2020 due to high costs and growing competition from low cost carriers.

The pilots strike, which started on 4 July, is now costing it $10 million to $13 million a day and has forced it to cancel more 1,200 flights at the peak of the summer travel season.

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The carrier, whose main owners are the governments of Sweden and Denmark with stakes of 22% each, on Wednesday 13 July cancelled 242 flights, or 75% of those scheduled, according to FlightAware.

"We hope that we can solve this and that we can end this strike. That is why we are here," Roger Klokset, from the union representing SAS' Norwegian pilots, told reporters as he arrived for the mediator-led negotiations in Stockholm.

Loss-making SAS last week filed for US bankruptcy protection seeking breathing space to restructure its business, saying the strike had hastened the filing.

The Swedish pilot union said last week their latest bid included pilots taking a 5% pay cut, working more hours per week, working part-time in winter with a reduced salary and foregoing summer vacation.

Unions are also demanding that pilots dismissed during the pandemic are rehired at SAS Scandinavia, rather than having to compete with external applicants for jobs at newly started SAS Link and Ireland-based SAS Connect.

In addition to affecting hundreds of thousands of travellers, the strike is also putting stress on Northern Norway's health system as staff have not been able to fly in on time for some surgeries.

Norwegian authorities can stop a strike if they believe it can pose an acute danger to life and health. On Tuesday, they said the strike did not pose such a risk.

SAS shares were up 11% in mid-day trade on Wednesday 13 July.

SAS and Pilot Unions To Resume Deadlocked Talks Wednesday

The above news followed news that embattled Scandinavian airline SAS SAS.ST and unions representing pilots will resume negotiations on Wednesday 13 July to try and agree a new labour deal to end a one-week strike.

SAS has cancelled more than 1,200 flights since 4 July when talks with many of its pilots over a new collective bargaining agreement collapsed and they launched the crippling strike.

"What has now happened is that we have asked the parties to gather in Stockholm from Wednesday," Swedish mediator Jan Sjolin said.

Henrik Thyregod, head of the Danish pilots union told Reuters he was certain an outcome would be reached but was unsure of how long the negotiations would take.

"I expect to discuss ... a collective bargaining agreement so we can get the pilots back in the cockpit and the passengers back in the air," he said.

Spokespeople for SAS and the Norwegian and Swedish pilot unions also confirmed the talks will resume but declined to elaborate on the content or expected outcome.

The airline said on Monday 11 July that it had informed mediators that it wishes to resume negotiations with the aim of "reaching a new collective agreement".

"SAS understands that continued mediation requires concessions from both parties and SAS is willing to take its responsibility in that process," it said in a statement.

BIG BUMPS

The loss-making carrier has estimated the strike, now in its ninth day, is costing $10 million to $13 million a day.

"There are some big bumps. But there are also a lot of things that have been agreed upon. If they can use that as a stepping stone to get the last things in order, then it doesn't have to take long before there is an agreement," Sydbank's chief analyst Jacob Pedersen told Reuters.

The striking unions have been angered by SAS' decision to hire new pilots through two relatively new subsidiaries instead of first rehiring former employees dismissed during the pandemic, when almost half of its pilots were let go.

Pedersen, when asked about the biggest point of contention, pointed to the rehiring and said pilots want to ensure that SAS does not just create new subsidiaries after entering into an agreement.

Having struggled for years, the airline on 5 July filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, a move it said was brought forward by the strike.

Flight tracking website FlightAware showed that 190 SAS flights, or 61% of those scheduled, were cancelled on Tuesday 12 July.

Shares in SAS, whose biggest owners are Sweden and Denmark, were up 7.6% at 0925 GMT on Tuesday 12 July. Year-to-date, they have still lost more than half of their value.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

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