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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

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.”

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