Strike grounds Swedish domestic flights

Thousands of passengers on Swedish internal flights are facing delays and cancellations after 230 pilots working for four regional airlines went on strike on Thursday morning.

The strike, which will continue until 11pm on Friday, came after talks broke down between the Swedish Airline Pilots’ Association (Svensk Pilotförening) and employers’ representatives at Flygarbetsgivarna (FlygA).

The union objects to demands from employers for cuts to pensions, increased working hours and reduced wages. The union is also concerned about increased use of employment agencies, and is demanding that pilots should be employed directly by the airline for which they work.

FlygA chief negotiator Elisabeth Holming-Schiller said she was “very disappointed” that the strike was going ahead:

“The companies have, despite their straitened circumstances with falling passenger numbers and the effects of the ash cloud, worked hard to guarantee industrial harmony.”

Gunnar Mandahl, chairman of the Swedish Airline Pilots’ Association, blamed the airlines for the breakdown of talks:

“Notice was given of strike action in order to get the talks moving. The fact that the employers are choosing not to meet our requests in a constructive way means that we seem unfortunately to be heading for a conflict.”

The largest airline affected by the strike is Skyways, which has an extensive network of domestic routes in Sweden. Some 200 Skyways departures are cancelled, affected 4,500 passengers.

Sverigeflyg, which serves nine destinations in Sweden, has also been affected by the strike. The airline does not operate its own fleet, instead using planes run by charter companies. All Sverigeflyg’s services have been cancelled.

“We can only deplore the fact that the pilots are choosing not to negotiate, but to go out on strike,” Sverigeflyg said in a written statement on Thursday.

Other airlines affected are Direktflyg, which flies five domestic Swedish routes and Golden Air, which flies between Stockholm and Trollhättan.

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Swedish government shelves plans for two fast train links

Sweden's government has called for a halt to planning to faster train links between Gothenburg and Borås and Jönköping and Hässleholm, in a move local politicians have called "a catastrophe".

Swedish government shelves plans for two fast train links

In an announcement slipped out just before Christmas Eve, the government said it had instructed the Swedish Transport Administration to stop all planning for the Borås to Gothenburg link, stop the ongoing work on linking Hässleholm and Lund. 

“The government wants investments made in the railway system to first and foremost make it easier for commuting and cargo traffic, because that promotes jobs and growth,” infrastructure minister Andreas Carlson said in a press release. “Our approach is for all investments in the railways that are made to be more cost effective than if the original plan for new trunk lines was followed.” 

Ulf Olsson, the Social Democrat mayor in Borås, told the TT newswire that the decision was “a catastrophe”. 

“We already have Sweden’s slowest railway, so it’s totally unrealistic to try to build on the existing railway,” he said. We are Sweden’s third biggest commuting region and have no functioning rail system, and to release this the day before Christmas Eve is pretty symptomatic.”

Per Tryding, the deputy chief executive for the Southern Sweden Chamber of Commerce, complained that the decision meant Skåne, Sweden’s most southerly county, would now have no major rail infrastructure projects. 

“Now the only big investment in Skåne which was in the plan is disappearing, and Skåne already lay far behind Gothenburg and Stockholm,” he said.

“This is going to cause real problems and one thing that is certain that it’s going to take a very long time, whatever they eventually decide. It’s extremely strange to want to first suspend everything and then do an analysis instead of doing it the other way around.”  

The government’s instructions to the transport agency will also mean that there will be no further planning on the so-called central parts of the new planned trunk lines, between Linköping and Borås and Hässleholm and Jönköping. 

Carlson said that the government was prioritising “the existing rail network, better road standards, and a build-out of charging infrastructure”.