Showing posts with label Scandinavian Airlines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scandinavian Airlines. Show all posts

Monday, April 21, 2008

SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Asian cabin crew dispute

SAS logoLast month I reported that Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly employing Asian flight attendants without Danish work permits. The airline also was accused of paying the Asian cabin crew members substandard wages.

The matter was heard in the Copenhagen City Court, and the Copenhagen Post reports that SAS was found guilty of the charges and fined DKK 900,000. SAS has appealed the verdict to the Danish High Court.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in the Danish Parliament to allow SAS, which is partly owned by the Danish government, to use Chinese personnel on its route between Copenhagen and Beijing. Now the Copenhagen Post is reporting that if parliament does not allow SAS to use Asian cabin crew, the airline has said it may re-register its planes in Norway or Sweden.

The Copenhagen Post article quotes Lars Sandahl Sørensen, CEO of SAS International, who said, "Although it's a solution we'd rather avoid, we might be forced into it."

Planes registered in Denmark are required to operate with personnel who are legally allowed to work in Denmark. The same permit rule may exist in Sweden and Norway as well, but Sørensen said, "...if it does then it would only apply to those countries' own airspaces, and not to Denmark." In other words, the plan seems to be to fly the Beijing-Copenhagen route with planes registered outside of Denmark, in order to dodge the Danish work permit rule.

Sørensen said that employing Chinese crews has nothing to do with paying them lower wages and everything to do with service.

"It's integral for us to have Chinese cabin crews on our flights to China because half the passengers are Chinese," he said. "And it's hard to provide good service for them if we can't communicate."

Sørensen said SAS could not pay the Chinese flight attendants Danish wages because it would create a huge salary disparity between them and their colleagues working on the ground in mainland China. The Chinese crew members earn around 10,000 kroner less per month than their Danish counterparts.
This argument sounds similar to excuses given by Air New Zealand for paying its Chinese cabin crew a fraction of what it pays New Zealand nationals to do identical work. Verner Lundtoft, president of the Cabin Attendants Union, says that the SAS threat to sidestep Danish law is "appalling," and I agree.
"We're talking about a partially state-owned and listed company attempting to avoid the requirements of Danish law," said Lundtoft. "It's completely unacceptable."

Lundtoft pointed out that none of SAS' competitors have employed Asian personnel on their China routes without providing equal working conditions.

"Finnair says it pays their Asian crews Finnish wages, Lufthansa has Chinese cabin crew members earning German scale pay, and Air France has interpreters on board its Asian flights," said Lundtoft.
Apparently SAS can legally re-register its planes in Sweden and Norway, as the airline is a Scandinavian-operated company. It remains to be seen if this will solve the labor issue, however.

It's time for all international air carriers to pay all crew equally for equal work, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. No excuses!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew pay scandal

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ERAir New Zealand's Shanghai based cabin crew, who are Chinese nationals, are underpaid. In fact, that's an understatement. They are paid roughly one-quarter the salary of their Kiwi counterparts -- an amount that is less than the minimum wage in New Zealand. Why should Chinese cabin crew doing the same work, on the same aircraft, on the same route as New Zealanders, be paid less?

In addition to their salary, cabin crew are paid per diem allowances for time spent away from their home base. Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew earn a per diem allowance that is only one-third that paid to New Zealand nationals. Why are the Chinese cabin crew assumed to need less than New Zealanders to cover their meals and other expenses when they are overseas?

Keeping in mind that the Chinese cabin crew work alongside New Zealand crew members, doing identical work, this pay disparity is discrimination of the worst kind: Clearly, it is exploitation. New Zealand's government owns the majority of shares in its national carrier, making this situation even more scandalous to my mind.

Recent news stories about this situation, including one published a few days ago by the New Zealand Herald, recount further details.

NZ flight attendants have a starting base salary of at least $24,000 a year.

A source said crew also got $170 for each day they spent overseas, plus other flight allowances, which could add up to $15,000 a year.

The Chinese have an annual wage starting at $6240 and a daily away allowance of $55.

One Chinese air stewardess said her monthly base salary was $520 and she got an extra $4.30 for every hour of flight time. This totals much less than New Zealand's legal minimum wage of $11.25 an hour.
The carrier has attempted to excuse itself from responsibility by pointing out that the Chinese cabin crew are not direct employees of Air New Zealand; rather, they are employed through a Chinese staffing agency. Nevertheless, each reportedly has a New Zealand work permit, listing Air New Zealand as the employer. So then, why are they not paid according to the standard set for New Zealand employees?

Air New Zealand is not the only international air carrier engaging in this type of exploitation of Asian cabin crew members. For example, just last week I wrote about a trial, scheduled to take place today in Copenhagen, in which Scandinavian airline SAS is accused of having paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005. Those flight attendants were hired by SAS without Danish work permits, allowing the carrier to avoid paying them according to Danish standards. The feeble defense put forth by SAS, quoted in news articles, was that "the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country," and therefore were exempt from needing Danish work permits.

Rubbish. All of these kinds of cases boil down to carriers attempting to cut costs at the expense of their employees' welfare and dignity. We all know that, with fuel prices and other material costs soaring, these are tough times for the aviation industry, but any temporary economic advantage these companies gain by paying grossly substandard wages to certain employees based on their nationality is greatly overshadowed by human rights issues.

Since when is blatant exploitation good corporate policy? What has happened to the concept of equal pay for equal work?

[Photo Source]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Scandinavian airline SAS on trial over Asian cabin crew

SAS logoA recent article on Forbes.com, the business news website, reported that "Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly hiring Chinese and Japanese flight attendants without Danish work permits." The airline is said to have paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005.

The news article says:

The prosecution is calling for SAS to pay a fine of 2 mln dkr and for an additional 5 mln dkr it says the airline saved by paying the flight attendants sub-standard wages, to be confiscated from the company.

Following pressure from the unions, the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs decided in 2006 to file suit against SAS, which is partially state-owned, for violating Danish labour laws.

SAS explained at the time that it needed the Asian air hostesses to attend to the needs of passengers flying between Europe and Asia, insisting that the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country.
I think the claim that the women were only briefly in Danish airspace is only a cover for the true issue: money. This sounds like just one more instance of a two-tiered pay scheme in which work is outsourced to 'foreign nationals' who are paid a lesser amount to do the same work as citizens of the carrier's home country. Last I knew, this was called exploitation.

The final day of the trial is scheduled for March 17, with a verdict expected about a week later, a judicial source told the news media.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Swedish cabin crew strike at SAS

Just a month ago, cabin crew working for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in Denmark walked out in "wildcat strike," causing a disruption in flight service. Today it is the Swedish cabin crew who are striking after talks between their union and SAS management broke down.

An Associated Press article about the strike, published in the Houston Chronicle and elsewhere, says:

Last week, the Swedish Salaried Employees' Union threatened to call the strike by 800 of its members unless agreement was reached in negotiations on achieving better working conditions. SAS, in turn, had warned it would impose a lockout if cabin staff went on strike.

Negotiations between the 160,000-member union and employers broke down during the night, and no new talks were planned. "The negotiations are stuck," the airline said in statement.

SAS Sweden said the strike would cost some $3 million a day in lost ticket sales. The Swedish unit has 2,500 staff and flies 6 million passengers a year to more than 50 domestic and international destinations.
The airline has canceled 300 flights today, affecting 20,000 passengers, and said it would cancel up to 150 on Saturday, according to news reports.