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SAS 'ultimatum' angers Swedish unions

Published: 20 Nov 2012 17:23 GMT+01:00

“As an SAS stakeholder, the Swedish state has pulled the rug from under the Swedish model despite the government saying it is in favour of it,” Unionen spokeswoman Louise Gerdemo Holmgren told The Local.

The trade union represents SAS's 600 Swedish cabin crew members and an additional 1,400 ground staff. Its members reacted angrily last week when SAS issued new working conditions without first calling its employees to the negotiating table.

“It’s the equivalent of us going on strike without talking to the employers first - it’s unfathomable,” said Gerdemo Holmgren.

"Our members are loyal and want to keep flying but there is a lot of anger."

Union representatives flew down to Copenhagen a few days later for crisis talks. The @Unionen Twitter account published a photograph of a bare office space and said some of their representatives had slept on the floor.

One online supporter said the situation resembled military tactics used to fatigue an opponent.

Other observers have reacted to the short space of time that the unions have had to respond.

“After all, they did agree, and both parties are taking responsibility, yet at the same time one can question negotiations that take place under such time pressure,” labour market historian Sofia Murhem at Uppsala University told The Local.

She said the negotiations were unusual but pointed out that the Swedish model had evolved over time.

“In the fifties and sixties, unprofitable companies were supposed to go bust. Then the workforce could relocate either to other companies or to other industries. It was also meant to regulate quality on the market,” she said.

“Union economists pioneered that model despite some Social Democrats deeming it controversial."

She said there were other "model-breaking" deals struck in the recent past.

In 2009, employers and the metal union IF Metall, then headed by current Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven, struck a bargain to reduce costs. Instead of lowering salaries, employees agreed to scale back their working hours while the financial climate recovered.

“That kind of compromise from both parties more accurately defines the Swedish model,” Murhem told The Local.

“Consensus was also meant to increase Swedish companies’ competitive edge as it provided long-term stability for investors.”

Ann Törnkvist

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Your comments about this article

17:45 November 20, 2012 by Beavis
so they would rather have their failed Swedish union model and everyone losing their jobs..morons..were talking about changing or going out of business. The question they should be asking instead is why are senior management not taking the hefty 70% pay cut they should be taking and when are they going to fix their 1980s pricing model
17:47 November 20, 2012 by skogsbo
listening to the unions is the last thing SAS should do to save itself. Cut wages and pensions by 10%, get rid of 10% of middle managers EVERY month until the books are balancing, award all staff a profit dividend annually, if the company survives. Some incompetent workers need the boot, business isn't charity and talking isn't going to save SAS, only severe action.
22:35 November 20, 2012 by Abe L
It must come as a shock to unions when they are hit in the face with reality and they have to realise there is no room for either negotiation or consensus. When a company is on the verge of bankruptcy the negotiations are a one-way process.

I sincerely wish unions would get prohibited by law.
21:08 November 24, 2012 by james_g
Jesus H Christ! Beavis, skogsbo & Abe have obviously been listening to the EU policy wonks who are busily insisting that the whole continent goes deeper into recession. Austerity, austerity, austerity... and presumably with the unions out of the way employers could REALLY get down to exploiting the proletariat for all they're worth - and get all that inconvenient Health & Safety legislation repealed too! Not that I have any sympathy for Union fat cat bosses sitting on enormous salaries and perks either... and obviously SAS needs serious changes if it is to have any serious chance of surviving - but they DO have to be negotiated (and it sounds like a lost cause anyway!) Finally (for the moment) no business concern would stand much chance of being successful except on the backs of its employees - so they deserve a fair share!
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