Unions continue assault on Norwegian Air

Washington DC
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Three major unions are urging the US Department of Transportation to reject an application by a controversial new subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle to operate long-haul flights to the USA.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the European Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation say the company’s plan to operate transatlantic flights by Dublin-based subsidiary Norwegian Air International (NAI) would allow the parent company to skirt international labour laws to the detriment of competing carriers.

“NAI’s business plan is crafted to circumvent worker protections… creating unfair competition with EU and US carriers and threatening to degrade labor standards in both the US and in Europe,” says the groups in a 23 May media release.

Norwegian announced in October 2013 that it had established the Irish subsidiary to assume its long-haul flying. In December it applied for a permit to fly to the USA.

Unions have also criticised Norwegian, which bases crews in Bangkok, for using hiring agencies to employ contracted pilots in foreign cities rather than employing the pilots directly.

The groups have called the company’s practices a “flag of convenience” model that allows it to skirt European employment regulations and reduce its payroll expenses by hiring non-European crew.

"The attempt of Norwegian Air to import cheap labor from Asia by employing non-European cabin crew on its long-haul routes are an attack on working conditions of the existing workers,” says Francois Ballestero, ETF’s civil aviation political secretary, in the media release.

The company has said some of its pilots are initially hired on contracts through staffing agencies overseas due to the need for flexibility and uncertainties about the viability of new routes.

The company adds that its policy calls for those pilots to be transitioned to the company’s payroll after three years.

Norwegian currently flies from Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Oakland, New York and Los Angeles to cities in Europe, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Bergen.

The airline intends to expand its flying to the USA this year with flights to London Gatwick.

Norwegian has said new transatlantic service operated by NAI will improve competition on routes dominated by airlines affiliated with the three major airline alliances.