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. 
“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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Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday 

Find out what’s going on in Norway on Thursday with The Local’s short roundup of important news.

Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday 
Oslo Operahus. Photo by Arvid Malde on Unsplash

Strikes could affect vulnerable children 

Municipal strikes among teachers and nurses could impact vulnerable children, the children’s ombudsmen has said. 

“I am concerned about the overall consequences that the strike and the pandemic may have on children and young people. The students bear a disproportionately large part of the burden, which increases each passing day,” Inga Bejer Engh, children’s ombud, told press agency NTB. 

Municipal workers have been on strike since last week when mediation talks between union Unio and municipalities over wage settlements broke down. 

Cases of Delta Covid variant detected in Trondheim

There have been 11 potential cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19, which is believed to have originated in India, in Trondheim, Central Norway. 

“We have done a partial genome sequencing and have identified 11 cases of the Indian variant in Trondheim. We are 99 percent sure that it is the Indian variant we are dealing with,” Chief Physician at St Olav’s Hospital told local news site Nidaros.

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, there have been 55 cases of the Delta strain detected in Norway. 

On Tuesday, coronavirus measures in Trondheim were tightened for the second time in a week. 

New quarantine hotel rules 

From today, anyone who has received their first coronavirus jab in Norway, at least three weeks before their arrival, and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the country in the last six months will not be forced into quarantine hotels when they arrive in Norway.

READ MORE: Norway eases Covid hotel quarantine rules

Travellers arriving in Norway who were vaccinated in foreign countries will still have to enter quarantine hotels.

The scheme will be in place until Norway’s full “coronavirus certificate” is released on June 11th.

READ MORE: NEW: Norway to launch full version of digital ‘Covid certificate’ 

Norway to provide poorer countries with 1 million extra Coronavirus vaccines 

Norway has said it will provide an extra one million Covid-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries through the equitable access Covax scheme. 

Led by organisations including UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Covax aims to offer equal access to vaccines for all countries. The scheme is primarily funded by wealthy Western countries, with the EU having pledged €500 million as of November 2020.

The Nordic country had previously provided poorer countries with the option to secure 700,000 vaccine doses through the scheme. 

READ MORE: Why Norway turned down the chance to order nearly 700,000 Covid-19 vaccines

353 new Covid-19 cases in Norway 

On Wednesday, 353 new cases of coronavirus were registered in Norway. This is eight cases more than the seven-day average of 345. 

In the capital, Oslo, 128 new Covid cases were registered in the city. Cases have risen sharply in recent days and yesterday’s figures represent an increase of 69 on the seven-day average. 

The R-number or reproduction rate in Norway is currently 1.0. This means that every ten people that are infected will, on average, only infect another ten people, indicating that the infection level is stable.

Number of reported Covid-19 cases. Source: NIPH