If Wizz Air is successful in Norway, there is no doubt that the company will see its chance to open bases in Sweden and Denmark, threatening the Scandinavian model. We need to act now to avoid a deterioration of working conditions throughout Scandinavia, writes Mircea Constantin, who represents FPU Romania.
The news that Wizz Air is opening a base in Norway is not surprising. We have already seen the company rapidly expand with new bases in Germany, Italy and the UK during the corona crisis. Now, the turn has come to Scandinavia. This is particularly worrying because Wizz Air does not believe in trade unions and will pose a threat to the decent collective work agreements that Scandinavia is famous for.
Wizz Air in Norway means that the company will take advantage of bleeding airlines such as Norwegian and SAS who have collective work agreements but are struggling because of the corona crisis. In the worst-case scenario, this might mean that Wizz Air will replace the airline Norwegian and introduce low wages, disruptive schedules, and unpaid leave during the low season for its flight crew.
As far as we know, Norwegians will not be employed as pilots and cabin crew. Instead, the CEO of Wizz Air has said he imagines that the airline will be using its existing crew. Most likely, Wizz Air will be rotating its Eastern European crew in and out of Oslo through layovers. This allows the company to operate without a permanent crew, and this way they hope to avoid collective agreements.
Many Eastern Europeans are not familiar with trade unions
As a former employee of the company, I know that Wizz Air has made it its mission to avoid trade unions. When I started a trade union back in 2014, the CEO of Wizz Air gave us seven days to dissolve the union. We did not dissolve it, and I was fired eight days later.
Understandably, Wizz Air’s entrance into the Norwegian market has met resistance from politicians and trade unions in Norway. They criticize the company’s hostile attitude towards unionizing, and even the Norwegian prime minister has entered the debate and said that she won’t be flying with a company that refuses its employees to join unions.
The Eastern European crew working from the Norway base will most likely be unfamiliar with trade unions. In Romania, where I live, people typically have little information about trade unions, and they associate them with corrupt leaders and the violence many Romanians experienced both before and after the revolution in 1989. This means that the employees who will be working in Norway often won’t know what a collective work agreement is or how to read and understand an employment contract.
We need to find ways to help Eastern European crew to unionize
I fear that Wizz Air will find the cheapest shared accommodation in Oslo for its crew. We know that the base salaries in Eastern Europe range from 350 Euro for a junior cabin crew to 1312 Euro for a new pilot. The crew working in Norway might be paid more than this, but we can presume that the wages will still be so low that airlines who respect collective work agreements won’t be able to compete on ticket prices.
This means that Norway’s collective work agreements are threatened, and that Wizz Air might succeed in gaining a big part of the Norwegian market if we do not find the proper solutions to combat social dumping. If Wizz Air is successful in Norway, there is no doubt that the company will see its chance to open bases in Sweden and Denmark, threatening the Scandinavian model.
We need to find ways to help Eastern European crew to unionize. This is part of the work that I have been doing as the representative of FPU Romania. I try to teach Romanians and other Eastern Europeans about the positive side of trade unionism, how employees should have specific rights, and that we need to fight for better working conditions. I work closely with FPU in Denmark, and by doing this, we hope to prevent social dumping in aviation. This will benefit both Eastern European workers and their Scandinavian counterparts.
We will monitor the situation, we will support the Norwegian trade unions, and FPU Romania will be ready to answer questions from the crew that will be relocating to Oslo. We need to act now to avoid a deterioration of working conditions throughout Scandinavia.