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ANALYSIS: Why are SAS pilots on strike?

SAS pilots are causing travel misery for thousands but how do they justify their strike action?

Pictured is an SAS aircraft.
This is why SAS pilots have gone on strike. File photo: A SAS plane approaches Arlanda airport, north of Stockholm. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP.

As many as 900 pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden are participating in a strike which SAS has warned will affect 30,000 passengers each day the strike continues

Unions announced that strikes would go ahead after the deadline for the two parties to find an agreement was pushed back several times

When strike action was confirmed, union reps said that the gap between what pilots wanted and what was offered was too far to be bridged with negotiations. 

“We have not succeeded in agreeing with SAS. We have been in long, long negotiations. We have come a long way. We have tried to reach an agreement but experienced that no matter how far we go, it will never be enough,” Martin Lindgren from the Swedish Pilot Association and leader of the SAS Pilot Group told business and financial site E24

The gap between the parties stems from two issues. Firstly, pilots are unhappy with the wages and working conditions offered by SAS. Unions have said that pilots were willing to take a five percent pay cut and work longer hours to strike a deal. 

READ ALSO: How long could the SAS pilot strike last?

However, the bigger issue for SAS pilots is that instead of re-employing those SAS pilots who were laid off during cutbacks caused by the pandemic, priority is instead being given to hiring new pilots on cheaper deals in two subsidiaries, SAS Link and SAS Connect.

The creation of the two subsidiaries came at a similar time as when 560 pilots lost their jobs due to the airline slashing costs across the board. 

Meanwhile, the airline has argued that hiring new pilots to the subsidiaries is an essential part of cost-cutting practices to ensure the airline’s survival. The airline has said that the subsidiaries are a vital step in attempting to cut costs by 7.5 billion kroner annually as part of the firm’s SAS Forward plan. 

In contrast, pilots’ representatives argue that using subsidiaries was a form of union-busting and goes against the Scandinavian working model. 

Last week, Roger Klokset, head of the Norwegian SAS pilots’ association, told newspaper VG said they were willing to see the company go under if needs be. 

“Yes. Undoubtedly if the company fails to relate to the Scandinavian model, we believe that is an actor that doesn’t have the right to life,” Klokset told VG. 

Member comments

  1. Why on earth did you deleted my previous post.
    This strike is totally legit and as an Air France pilot having had the luck to be in a country where a national airline is deemed essential, we we given gazillions of Euro, just like Lufthansa, to hold our head aboute the water. Why haven’t Scandinavian country don’t the same.
    But, the core of the problem is that SAS pilot had a promise ( years ) to be rehired once the pandemic would be over.
    I choke when I read pilots have a strike culture !!
    A contract is a contract. How do you expect to speak of loyalty when such practices are in place ?

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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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