Once-known for high social standards and excellence, Scandinavian Airlines SAS is on course of ruining its reputation and alienating employees, passengers, and politicians all at the same time. The airline has left hundreds of loyal employees behind after the Covid crisis, some with over 20 years seniority, despite financial government support and a legal obligation to rehire the employees in case of a ramp up.
Pilots and cabin crew made redundant due to the Covid-19 crisis are not offered their jobs back even though they have a 5-year legal right to be re-employed by SAS. The airline is trying to muscle through lower employment conditions by setting up two new subsidiary companies: namely SAS Connect (former SAS Ireland) and SAS Link.
Pilots here are not to be employed by the operating company, but by in-house staffing agencies. However, this restructuring also implies that SAS is actively circumventing the terminated SAS employees’ right of first refusal, i.e. the right allowing them to get rehired to their old jobs. Rather, those same former SAS pilots can apply for their previous positions on lower terms and conditions through the new subsidiaries. Furthermore, nothing prevents SAS to declare these bankrupt during the next crisis, leaving their staff on the street overnight. Other airlines have already successfully executed such a plot.
SAS management has gone behind their backs by copying problematic practices used by certain aviation players elsewhere in Europe
This situation creates significant tension with SAS management on one side, and employees and most political parties on the other. Throughout the pandemic, unions and pilots have supported SAS and called for securing sufficient funding to help the airline through the crisis. Nonetheless, simultaneously the SAS management has gone behind their backs by copying problematic practices used by certain aviation players elsewhere in Europe.
Hundreds of former and current SAS-employees are demonstrating all over Scandinavia. Last week in Stockholm, and this week approximately 500 pilots, cabin crew, technicians and other groups came to show their support in Oslo. Also, leading politicians in all the Scandinavian countries have expressed their concern:
“The SAS management needs to sharpen up. The company has been dependent on mercy from the politicians and the Norwegian society several times. They cannot expect that if they are treating employees in this way”, said Mimir Kristjansson, a Norwegian politician.
SAS’ problematic new strategy is also being noticed all over the world, and declarations of support to former employees are coming in (a full list of letters can be seen here).
This support gives employees the motivation to continue the battle until SAS management sees that a successful and strong SAS for the future includes the experience and dedication of their terminated employees. But action is also needed from the European Commission to abolish legal loopholes and to prevent the use of opportunistic set-ups like staffing agencies and precarious agency contracts by European airlines. SAS shows that there is a problem that calls both for national action and for a wider European solution.
© Images: Cockpit Association of Norway