French cabin crew at low-cost long-haul airline Norwegian are being urged to join a three-day strike set to take place between 24th and 26th April. The cabin crew, who are based at the airline’s base at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, are fighting for better pay and working conditions according to the UNAC union which represents around 70% of the 158 flight attendants based at CDG.
In a statement, the union said a strike had become necessary as the situation on pay and conditions had become “untenable”. Amongst the specific demands raised by the UNAC union were per diem allowances, holiday pay, fair rostering of flight hours and measures to improve the safety of cabin crew while at work.
According to a union spokesperson, the two sides have been negotiating on these issues for more than a year but with little to show for it. Anastasia Durand said there had not been a formal strike vote but that the union had questioned cabin crew and there was “general support for strike action”.
The long-haul cabin crew at Charles de Gaulle currently operate 31 direct flights a week on a fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners to seven destinations across the United States, including New York JFK, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Norwegian has not proactively cancelled or adjusted any flights during the planned strike action and all services from CDG are currently showing as operating as normal.
The threat of strike action in France is the latest industrial relations dispute the Oslo-based airline is facing with cabin crew and pilots. In the last few months, Norwegian enraged Spanish unions after closing several bases in the country as part of a massive cost-cutting programme.
Norwegian offered affected staff the option to move to a new city but unions claimed the airline failed to negotiate the terms of the move. Unions were further infuriated when Norwegian brought forward the Spanish base closures citing the worldwide grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft of which the airline currently has 18 in its fleet.
There’s also concern about how Norwegian has started making use of its complicated company structure – the airline currently has several air operators certificates (AOC) for different countries and staff are employed on local contracts depending on where they are based. This set up helps Norwegian reduce costs because it avoids high Scandinavian taxes and minimum wage rules but on the flip side it reduces the airline’s flexibility when things go wrong.
As it stands, cabin crew and pilots are only allowed to work under one AOC but in recent weeks Norwegian has got around this rule by simply transferring crew from one AOC to another at a moments notice. There’s concern that Norwegian could use crew on a different contract than their French colleagues to “break” the planned strike, although it’s more likely that Norwegian has done this because of the 737 MAX groundings.