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US airline unions make last-ditch plea to thwart NAI

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by July 31, 2017 General
NAI chief Tore Jenssen. Photo: Caroline Quinn
NAI chief Tore Jenssen. Photo: Caroline Quinn
John Mulligan

US airline unions have made a last-ditch plea to a Washington DC appeals court to force the US Department of Transportation to reconsider its awarding of a controversial permit to Ireland-based Norwegian Air International (NAI).

The permit enabled the carrier to recently launch low-cost transatlantic flights from Ireland to America.

The appeals court was told in a submission it received from unions on Friday evening that tens of thousands of pilots at Delta and United are deeply concerned about NAI’s arrival on the transatlantic market.

Four US airline unions representing more than 100,000 pilots and flight attendants have been fighting to have NAI’s permit revoked and reconsidered by the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

The unions claim their members will suffer economic harm due to NAI’s presence on the transatlantic market, as their wages will be cut and working conditions lessened due to the new entrant.

NAI is a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle. NAI secured a permit last December under the EU-US Open Skies agreement after a four-year wait. The permit enables NAI to fly from any location in the EU to any destination in the United States, and vice versa.

US unions claim NAI only established itself in Ireland to circumvent strict Norwegian labour rules and that it would use crews on cheap contracts drawn in Asia for its transatlantic service. “It appears that NAI will use lower-cost pilots and flight attendants employed by Singapore and Thai hiring agencies on individual employment contracts governed by Singapore and Thai law,” the unions claimed again on Friday.

“A court order vacating DOT’s order [granting NAI the permit] would redress the harm that would otherwise be suffered by petitioners [unions] and their members,” the submission stated.

Committed

Norwegian has consistently denied those claims and pointed out that NAI is hiring hundreds of US-based staff for its transatlantic services.

Unions noted that NAI chief executive Tore Jenssen “voluntarily committed” to the Dot to use only European and US flight crews on its transatlantic flights.

“That concern is not about the nationality of the flight crew, but the national laws that governs their employment contracts,” stressed unions on Friday.

Unions have claimed that granting a permit to NAI violates Article 17 of the Open Skies agreement. The article is meant to ensure that labour standards or labour rights are not undermined by the agreement.

Earlier this month, the US Dot told the appeals court that granting NAI its permit under the agreement would not lead to inferior working conditions for pilots and cabin crew.

“To the contrary, information in the administrative record suggests that the increased demand for pilots and flight crew, and employees’ strong bargaining position, could result in higher wages and improved working conditions,” the Dot said.

On Friday, the US airline unions also again called into question the reasons for NAI being based in Ireland.

The unions have insisted that if the Dot is forced to reassess NAI’s permit application, that the carrier’s assertions as to why it selected Ireland as a base could be more deeply probed.

“NAI’s assertions as to why its parent company established it in Ireland are misleading, at best,” the unions claimed.

NAI has told the appeals court that the decision to establish its base in Ireland was “lawful, rational and based on legitimate commercial factors”.

“Petitioners [unions] should not be allowed to second-guess Norwegian Air’s selection of Ireland as its country of incorporation and principal place of business,” it added.

Irish Independent

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