Christmas strike feared after SAS buys Cimber

The purchase of Danish airline Cimber by SAS could trigger a Christmas strike by airline personnel, an industry analyst has warned.

Christmas strike feared after SAS buys Cimber
SAS said it was purchasing Cimber in order to be more competitive. Photo: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix
SAS announced on Monday that it will overtake control of Danish airline Cimber at a price of 20 million kroner ($3.3 million). The buy saves Cimber from following through on previously announced shutdown plans, which were set in motion in September after SAS decided to end its ACMI contract with the small Sønderborg-based airline. 
But while that might be good news for the 130 Cimber employees who were otherwise slated to lose their jobs, industry insiders say the move signals SAS’s intention to move employees to a more cost-effective collective bargaining agreement. And that in turn could lead to an employee strike. 
“This presents a risk that employees might react by going on strike, just like what happened at Lufthansa and Air France. SAS’s employees are under a lot of pressure,” Jacob Pedersen, a senior analyst at Sydbank, told Berlingske Business. 
“I cannot say where this will go; I can just say that [there were strikes] when Air France and Lufthansa tried to redirect traffic from their main operations down to subsidiaries that had cheaper bargaining agreements,” he added. 
As part of the agreement to buy Cimber, SAS will receive 35 million kroner worth of CO2 quotas from 2015-2020, allowing SAS to move operations over to smaller Cimber planes. SAS will still use its own planes and personnel on longer routes, but will base 12 CRJ 900 planes in Copenhagen for shorter flights. Those aircraft will be operated by Cimber but fly under the SAS logo. 
“The acquisition of Cimber will give SAS access to a specialist within regional flights with a very competitive production platform that complements SAS’s production of larger Airbus and Boeing aircraft,” SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson said in a press release. 
The Sønderborg-based Cimber was established in 1950 as Cimber Air. In 2008, the company bought parts of the bankrupt Sterling Airlines and changed its name to Cimber Sterling. Four years later, Cimber Sterling itself declared bankruptcy before being given a lifeline in the form of an ACMI contract with SAS. 

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‘We agree to disagree’: Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

By lunchtime on Friday, talks between the Scandinavian airline SAS and unions representing striking pilots were still stuck on "difficult issues".

'We agree to disagree': Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

“We agree that we disagree,” Roger Klokset, from the Norwegian pilots’ union, said at lunchtime outside the headquarters of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, where talks are taking place. “We are still working to find a solution, and so long as there is still some point in continuing negotiations, we will do that.” 

Mats Ruland, a mediator for the Norwegian government, said that there were “still several difficult issues which need to be solved”. 

At 1pm on Friday, the two sides took a short break from the talks for lunch, after starting at 9am. On Thursday, they negotiated for 15 hours, breaking off at 1am on Friday morning. 

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on the SAS plane strike?

Marianne Hernæs, SAS’s negotiator on Friday told journalists she was tired after sitting at the negotiating table long into the night. 

“We need to find a model where we can meet in the middle and which can ensure that we pull in the income that we are dependent on,” she said. 

Klokset said that there was “a good atmosphere” in the talks, and that the unions were sticking together to represent their members.

“I think we’ve been extremely flexible so far. It’s ‘out of this world’,’ said Henrik Thyregod, with the Danish pilots’ union. 

“This could have been solved back in December if SAS had not made unreasonable demands on the pilots,” Klokset added. 

The strike, which is now in its 12th day, has cost SAS up to 130m kronor a day, with 2,550 flights cancelled by Thursday, affecting 270,000 passengers.