OSLO (REUTERS) — Budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle started government mediation with more than 600 pilots on Friday, hoping to avoid a strike that threatens to shut down the carrier as early as Monday.
Tensions with its unions have been rising this year after it the airline decided to hire Thai cabin crew for its long-haul operations at a fraction of the wages paid to its Scandinavian workers.
Pilots are threatening to walk out in protest of Norwegian's decision to transfer them to new operating companies, which they claim jeopardises their collective agreement and weakens their position.
"They are trying to restructure themselves out of previous agreements with the pilots by creating new companies," says Halvor Vatnar, the head of the Norwegian Air's pilots union.
Norwegian unveiled plans earlier this month to establish new companies in the various countries it operates in and transfer pilots to these firms from the parent entity. It would move Finnish pilots first, followed by those at bases in Spain and Britain.
The airline has said that pay and conditions would not change for its Scandinavian pilots and the changes were necessary so the airline could maintain its traffic rights.
"If we were to be hit by a strike then this will obviously have implications ... but we will probably still manage to implement parts of the flight programme," Norwegian spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen said.
Government sponsored mediation will take place over the weekend and no final decision is likely until the early hours on Monday.
Norwegian Air Shuttle has been among the fastest growing airlines in Europe, establishing bases across the Nordics, Britain and Spain. It has around 270 aircraft on order and started flights to North America and Asia earlier this year.
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