SAS Heathrow staff score huge wage victory — could British Airways staff now do the same to avert strikes?

Jun 29, 2022

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The U.K.’s biggest trade union has warned British Airways to “take note” after it secured a “game-changing” pay rise for SAS cabin crew to ward off a potentially devastating strike.

Unite fired the warning shot at the U.K. flag carrier as it won a huge 18% wage hike for cabin crew working at Heathrow for Scandinavian Airline.

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Unite also represents hundreds of British Airways workers who — in a similar dispute to SAS — last week voted to strike over management’s refusal to reverse a 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic.

After weeks of wrangling, Unite secured the deal for its members employed by CAE Crewing Services Ltd on its contract for SAS Connect today, after agreeing to an incremental 18% hike by March 2023.

Related: British Airways check-in staff set to strike during peak of summer holidays

The agreement will reverse a 10% pay cut accepted by SAS staff during the pandemic and also includes a one-off £1,200 summer bonus for 2022, and increases in overnight rates and other pay elements.

“This is a game-changing deal for our members working on the SAS Connect contract,” said Graham. “It will see the reversal of the 10% cut to their wages made during the pandemic and a substantial increase in their pay.”

Riding high from its wage victory Unite took aim at British Airways, warning that “chaos at airports will continue”, if the airline refuses to “[restore] money taken out of workers’ pockets by an opportunistic employer”.

“I strongly advise other aviation employers, including British Airways, to take note,” said Unite’s Sharon Graham. “Without across-the-board, drastic improvements to the poor wages and working conditions within this sector, the staff shortages driving the chaos at airports will continue.”

What could this mean for the British Airways strike?

British Airways check-in staff at Heathrow are also demanding a reversal of the 10% pay cut they accepted during the pandemic (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images).

Last week, hundreds of British Airways check-in and ground staff voted in favour of walkouts during the peak holiday period in a dispute over pay and conditions — a move that could threaten thousands of British holidaymakers’ plans this summer.

Unite and the GMB union — which both represent staff at BA’s Heathrow hub — claim BA is refusing to reverse a 10% pay cut to lower-level staff during the pandemic, despite doing so for its management.

“This is a group of workers who were savagely attacked by their employer during COVID-19,” Graham said on Sunday. “‘Fire and rehire’ led to thousands of unnecessary job cuts and pay being slashed.”

She added: “This dispute is not about a pay rise — it’s about restoring money taken out of workers’ pockets by an opportunistic employer. British Airways and its parent company IAG hold billions in reserves and assets and are predicting a return to profit this quarter.”

BA, in response, says it has offered workers a 10% one-off bonus for this year, an offer they should not refuse given “the extremely challenging environment and [pandemic-related] losses of more than £4bn”.

The company added: “We are fully committed to work together to find a solution, because to deliver for our customers and rebuild our business we have to work as a team. We will of course keep our customers updated about what this means for them as the situation evolves.”

Last-ditch hope for SAS pilots’ strike?

The union claims SAS wants to replace the 450 pilots axed during the pandemic with agency recruits on lower wages, while demanding its remaining pilots work for less (Photo by Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB Scanpix / AFP)

In other positive news, the looming SAS pilot strike in Europe was postponed following 11th-hour talks, giving fresh hope to passengers that it may yet be averted.

In what has been described as a bid to “push SAS off a cliff”, up to 1,000 of the airline’s pilots were set to stage a three-day walkout from tonight. But negotiators appear to have made a last-minute breakthrough and have been granted a further 72-hours to carve out a deal.

“SAS welcomes the mediators’ decision as it continues to be the company’s firm ambition to reach an agreement and avoid a strike,” the company said in a statement today.

Related: Are you entitled to compensation if your flight is affected by strikes?

“We feel a great responsibility towards both SAS and our members, but above all towards our passengers,” said Martin Lindgren, chairman of the Swedish SAS branch of the Swedish Air Line Pilots Association (SPF) “Although we have gone to great lengths to come to an agreement, many issues remain unsolved. The strike can only be avoided if SAS show a real will to meet us. As of now, we’re choosing to give the other side yet another chance to do that.”

It is the latest labour clash across Europe’s aviation sector as millions of workers grapple with rising costs of living, prompting trade unions to demand higher wage deals or unleash more travel disruption.

And SAS customers were given a further boost this morning after British union Unite said it had secured a “game-changing” pay deal for cabin crew contracted by the Scandinavian carrier at Heathrow.

Why are SAS pilots threatening to strike?

Labour unions say up to 1,000 SAS pilots (around 80% of the airline’s fliers) could go on strike unless an agreement over wages and conditions is found.

Like most issues facing the airline industry right now, it all began during the pandemic.

When COVID-19 struck in the spring of 2020, SAS cut its pilot workforce in a bid to make ends meet.

It then attempted to streamline its business by setting up two new subsidiaries – SAS Connect and SAS Link – both of which SAS says have cheaper operational costs.

Related: The key dates for when travel is set to be disrupted in Europe this Summer

SAS Scandinavia pilots, however, claim the company’s strategy is to replace the 450 pilots axed during the pandemic with agency recruits on lower wages while demanding its remaining pilots work for less.

However, the FPU union, the organisation that represents SAS pilots at both Link and Connect, said its members will not be involved in the action. “We do not understand why the pilots in SAS Scandinavia want to push SAS off the cliff. A conflict will threaten the jobs of thousands of other colleagues,” Thilde Waast, chair of the FPU, told Reuters.

What could a strike mean for passengers?

The strike involves 80% of SAS’ pilots in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (up to 1,000 of them), and was meant to begin at midnight local time (10pm GMT, Wednesday 29 June). Now, if a deal is not reached during the extension, the strike will commence on Saturday night instead.

SAS has said it was taking “precautionary measures to support customers whose flights will be impacted by a potential strike”.

“Due to peak season, the availability of equivalent flights will be highly limited. Therefore, SAS is taking precautionary measures to enable customers to plan alternatives to their scheduled flight,” the company said.

Passengers will be offered the option to rebook equivalent flights for free and are advised to check whether their flight will be affected.

“SAS offers passengers booked on SAS flights between June 27th [and] July 3rd 2022 the option of rebooking the ticket, free of charge. Passengers can rebook to a SAS flight on another date, within the next 360 days, to the same destination if the same service class as the original ticket is available,” it said.

Featured image courtesyof SAS.

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