Danish SAS pilots in wildcat strike
On the 23 January 2006 Danish SAS pilots took industrial action in protest against plans concerning their employment status and working conditions forwarded by the SAS management thus causing several flight cancellations. They fear for both career and job if the management succeeds in splitting SAS pilots up into the national companies at the cost of the current employment directly under the SAS Group. The strike was ruled unlawful at the Labour Court in Stockholm.
On the 23 January 2006 almost 200 Danish SAS pilots left the cockpits in order to attend a joint meeting about the implications for the pilots caused by new management plans of restructuring. The pilots, who have experienced several reductions in their employment conditions over the last years, were frustrated because of the plans of the management to transfer the approxemately 2,200 SAS pilots from the current employment at Group level to national level, i.e. transferring the employers bargaining responsibility vis-à-vis the pilots’ collective agreements from the central Group level to each of the three national subsidiaries in Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
The strike took place just as negotiations about the renewal of the collective agreement from 2004 were to begin. This means that the strike was still encompassed by the peace obligation of an agreement in force and therefore unlawful. In this situation the Danish Airline Pilots’ Union (Dansk Pilotforening, DPF) were forced to call on their members to take up work again in order not to be charged of committing an anti-organisational act. Conflicts beween SAS and the employees are taken to the Swedish Labour Court. Subsequently the Labour Court in Stockholm on 25 January ruled the actions taken by the Danish pilots unlawful and that the pilots should take up work (SE0602101N) Simoultaneously a substantial increase in sickness absence among the Norwegian pilots led to the cancellation of a large number of departures in the period 23 - 27 January. At the most 20% of the relevant pilots reported ill, and at the most more than 100 departures were cancelled. It was generally assumed that the absence rate was grounded in organised actions taken by the pilots in protest against the (NO0602101N).
Danish SAS pilots’ union, DPF, claims that the SAS management has broken an agreement in force by dictating new employment and working conditions. The pilots are afraid that the transfer to the national companies will cancel the existing ranking list of seniority - by many called the pilots bible. The 50 years old ranking list specifies precisely where the single pilot - regardless of nationality - is placed on the ladder towards more pretigious and more secure jobs. The principle of 'latest hired, first fired' decides who has to leave in case of redundancies, as during the last years, regardless of nationality (SE0304104N and DK0404102N). The pilots now fear that the SAS management will spread the pilots on different employment conditions/contracts in the single countries and consequently cancel the seniority list. This will obviously lead to more management control with a view to adjust expenses and the pilots anticipate worse pay and working conditions and internal competition between Swedish, Norwegian and Danish pilots. The resistance against this list to be cancelled was the reason that the management choose to postpone the division of pilots in Denmark and Sweden at the last collective bargaining round in 2004 because all energy was spent on getting the merged SAS Braathens into the air. The pilots are the last group of SAS employees to complete the 'companizing' (bolagisering) of the SAS Group into 13 different subsidiaries.
If the list is cancelled it will no longer be possible to dismiss, for instance Swedish pilots, if there are too many Danish pilots in SAS Denmark. SAS Denmark stand first in line to cut down expenses and the 706 Danish pilots thus fear that they will take the bulk of the redundancies, which have already been announced, although not confirmed by SAS management.
The president of the pilots’ union DPF, Mogens Holgaard, has in an interview expressed that the level of threat is very high and that it is obvious that the managerial plans opens for an internal war between the companies, where the winner will be the company that is able to do the job the less expensive way.
The management has answered that changing the seniority list is changing the collective agreement. So far the negotiations, which are conducted behind closed doors, have not reached this issue and consequently the management has no further comment on maintaining the list or not. Managing director of SAS, Jørgen Lindgaard, adds that the transfer of pilots to the national companies is part of an ongoing process and he disagree with DPF that the transfer plans were negotiated as part of the collective agreement in force. They were discussed in parallel negotiations with the pilots. He further states that the managerial right to organise work and to decide company restructurings are not subject to collective bargaining.
The strike lasted three days resulting in more than a hundred flight cancellations from Copenhagen Airport at the cost of millions of Euros for SAS. Though unlawful, the pilots have shown their dissatisfaction with the management effectively. The current collective bargaining round must lead to a result before the end of March 2006. If not the pilots can take up industrial action again - and this time according to rules.
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