Over 1,000 SAS pilots could go on strike by late June

Around 1,000 pilots with Scandinavian airline SAS could go on strike later this month after trade unions issued notice of a strike to begin in at least 14 days’ time.

A file photo of a SAS aircraft approaching Stockholm's Arlanda Airport
A file photo of a SAS aircraft approaching Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

Danish pilots’ trade union Dansk Pilotforening confirmed the strike announcement to news wire Ritzau on Thursday. The Danish union is part of SAS Pilot Group, which represents SAS pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Pilots with the airline in Sweden and Norway have also issued strike notices in line with the Danish announcement.

The collective bargaining agreement by which the pilots’ salary and working terms are determined expired in April. Pilots are currently working under the terms of the expired deal.

READ ALSO: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?

But the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement also means that the pilots are not bound by a commitment not to strike. They can therefore legally do so provided they give two weeks’ notice.

The creation of two SAS subsidiaries, SAS Connect and SAS Link, is reported to have generated an obstacle in negotiations over a new collective agreement.

The head of the Danish pilots’ union, Henrik Thyregod, denied on Thursday that the strike had been announced to coincide with SAS’ peak season during the summer. He noted that pilots chose not to strike at Easter, another peak time, when the action was also available to them.

“We have been sitting down with SAS since mid-November to try to find out what they need in terms of flexibility and savings,” Thyregod told Ritzau.

“We have found an overall package that gives a minimum of 25 percent [in savings, ed.]. That’s 500 million Swedish kronor. In return, we need jobs at Link and Connect for our pilots who have (previously) been let go,” he said.

“We have spent seven months on this. Last Friday, SAS told us that they could not guarantee they would not pull the same trick again: in other words, create new companies and make new collective bargaining agreements and take our jobs from us,” he said.

Several SAS employee groups have raised objections to what they see as moves by the airline since the Covid-19 pandemic to resume its business activities through the new subsidiary companies, keeping SAS activity at a level lower than it was at prior to the pandemic.

In a written comment to Ritzau, SAS head of media relations in Denmark Alexandra Lindgren Kaoukji strongly criticised the strike notice.

“The notice from the pilots’ unions is careless and shows a shocking lack of understanding of the critical situation in which SAS finds itself,” Kaoukji wrote.

Sweden’s government said on Tuesday that Stockholm will not bail out SAS amid the company’s ongoing debt struggles, adding that the Swedish state will be reducing its stake in the airline.

READ ALSO: Swedish government rejects bailout for SAS airline

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SAS pilots approve new collective agreement

93 percent of Danish SAS pilots have approved the agreement that ended strike action last month.

SAS pilots approve new collective agreement

93 percent of the Danish SAS pilots have voted yes to an agreement which ended strike action but also means, among other things, redeployments, longer working weeks and lower wages.

This was announced by Dansk Metal on Saturday morning. The pilots could have voted yes or no on the new collective agreement until midnight on Friday evening.

Pilots in Sweden and Norway have also approved the agreement.

Keld Bækkelund Hansen, head of negotiations at Dansk Metal, said “I am incredibly happy. It is a bit atypical to see that a collective agreement negotiation ends in agreements being made that reduce wages and conditions.”

“So of course it was exciting how our members viewed the new collective agreement. But they could also see that it was a necessity in relation to SAS’s situation,” he added.

The agreement comes after months of tug-of-war that finally saw SAS and the striking pilots reach a collective agreement on 19 July. It helped end a two-week strike.

Part of the background to the conflict between SAS and the pilots was that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, SAS dismissed around half of its pilots.

With the new collective agreement, however, all 450 dismissed pilots will be offered re-employment in the future.

At the same time, SAS pilots will see a 25 percent pay cut, and the limit for the workload is raised from 47 hours to 60 hours per week.

But even with strike action over and a collective agreement supported by pilots, the problems are far from over for SAS, which has suffered major financial losses during the conflict.

Currently, the airline plans to begin a reconstruction in the United States under bankruptcy protection in a so-called Chapter 11 process.

Bankruptcy protection will mean that SAS can continue to operate and pay wages while the process is ongoing.

SAS is seeking financing of up to $700 million- slightly more than DKK 5.1 billion.

SAS press manager Alexandra Lindgren Kaoukji said in a statement: “We are very happy and look forward to continuing our ongoing Chapter 11 process and our work to ensure a strong and sustainable airline for many years to come.The positive result of the vote will help SAS to attract long-term investors while we go through the Chapter 11 process and work further with the SAS Forward plan.”