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SAS starts talks with unions to end six-day strike

Scandinavian airline SAS began talks with pilot unions in Oslo on Wednesday morning, hoping to restart flights as early as 2pm on Thursday.

SAS starts talks with unions to end six-day strike
An SAS plane: Photo: TT
“We have entered a good and constructive phase where we, with the help of the national mediator, will hopefully be able to bring an end to this tragic strike,” Knut Morten Johansen, the company's press chief in Norway, told Norwegian state broadcaster NRK
 
The first meeting began at 11am at the offices of the national mediator. As Marianne Hernes, SAS's chief negotiator, entered the building she was asked if there was now a possibility of a solution. “We absolutely hope so,” she said. 
 
It was the first time the two sides had sat down together for talks since SAS pilots walked off the job in Sweden, Denmark and Norway on Friday demanding better pay and conditions, though they met prior to the walkout.
 
“We will try and find a solution to the conflict. I always believe there is a solution, but it's a challenge,” Mats Wilhelm Ruland, Norway's national mediator, told Norway's NTB news wire. 
 
Shortly after the talks began, SAS announced that it would cancel a further 280 flights on Thursday morning and early afternoon, affecting a further 20,000 passengers.
 
But Johansen said that he hoped these cancellations would be the last. “If we reach an agreement, we'll do everything we can to deliver the existing schedule after 2pm,” he told NRK.  
 
Jan Sjölin, his counterpart at the Swedish National Mediation Office, said that the talks in Norway would cover pilots in Sweden and Denmark as well. 
 
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“Everything in this applies to Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The employer is the same in all the countries, and the pilots' negotiating organisation is as well,” he told Sweden's TT newswire. “We are waiting for the signals from Oslo.” 
 
Freja Annamatz, SAS's press chief, confirmed that although the negotiations were taking place in Oslo for “efficiency reasons”,  separate talks would take place in Oslo over collective bargaining agreements for each of the three countries. 
 
“It's encouraging that the two sides are meeting at the Norwegian national mediator,” she told TT. Mariam Skovfoged, the company's press chief in Denmark, told the Danish news agency Ritzau that the talks would also cover Danish pilots. 
 
Both SAS and union negotiators have signed a confidentiality clause preventing them from disclosing details of the talks to the media during the duration of the mediation. 
 
The Swedish Air Line Pilots Association, which initiated the strike, has said that months of previous talks had failed to result in a solution to pilots' “deteriorating work conditions, unpredictable work schedules and job insecurity”.
 
As well as higher pay, pilots have been asking for a more predictable work schedule where they are informed of their hours at least two weeks before the monthly rota comes into force. Pilots complain they have to work variable hours and sometimes work several weekends in a row. 
 
After almost going bankrupt in 2012, SAS has implemented repeated savings programmes in recent years to improve its profitability.
 
Since the strike started last Friday, over 3,306 flights have been cancelled, affecting 300,000 passengers. A further 504 flights have been cancelled on May 1, affecting a further 47,583 passengers. 

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STRIKES

EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?

Over one in four people in Denmark are in favour of political intervention to resolve an ongoing nurses’ strike, but political resolutions to labour disputes are uncommon in the country.

EXPLAINED: How could government intervene to settle Denmark nurses’ strike?
Striking nurses demonstrate in Copenhagen on July 10th. OPhoto: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

In a new opinion poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau, 27.3 percent said they supported political intervention in order to end the current industrial conflict was has almost 5,000 nurses currently striking across Denmark, with another 1,000 expected to join the strike next month.

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Over half of respondents – 52.6 percent – said they do not support political intervention, however, while 20.1 percent answered, “don’t know”.

That may be a reflection of the way labour disputes are normally settled within what is known as the ‘Danish model’, in which high union membership (around 70 percent) amongst working people means unions and employers’ organisations negotiate and agree on wages and working conditions in most industries.

The model, often referred to as flexicurity, is a framework for employment and labour built on negotiations and ongoing dialogue to provide adaptable labour policies and employment conditions. Hence, when employees or employers are dissatisfied, they can negotiate a solution.

But what happens when both sides cannot agree on a solution? The conflict can evolve into a strike or a lockout and, occasionally, in political intervention to end the dispute.

READ ALSO: How Denmark’s 2013 teachers’ lockout built the platform for a far greater crisis

Grete Christensen, leader of the Danish nurses’ union DSR, said she can now envisage a political response.

“Political intervention can take different forms. But with the experience we have of political intervention, I can envisage it, without that necessarily meaning we will get what we are campaigning for,” Christensen told Ritzau.

“Different elements can be put into a political intervention which would recognise the support there is for us and for our wages,” she added.

A number of politicians have expressed support for intervening to end the conflict.

The political spokesperson with the left wing party Red Green Alliance, Mai Villadsen, on Tuesday called for the prime minister Mette Frederiksen to summon party representatives for talks.

When industrial disputes in Denmark are settled by parliaments, a legal intervention is the method normally used. But Villadsen said the nurses’ strike could be resolved if more money is provided by the state.

That view is supported by DSR, Christensen said.

“This must be resolved politically and nurses need a very clear statement to say this means wages will increase,” the union leader said.

“This exposes the negotiation model in the public sector, where employers do not have much to offer because their framework is set out by (parliament),” she explained, in reference to the fact that nurses are paid by regional and municipal authorities, whose budgets are determined by parliament.

DSR’s members have twice voted narrowly to reject a deal negotiated between employers’ representatives and their union.

The Voxmeter survey consists of responses from 1,014 Danish residents over the age of 18 between July 15th-20th.

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