Norwegian Air layoffs around the world hit Spanish workforce
Norwegian Air Shuttle has announced plans to lay off 1,191 workers in Spain, affecting 85% of its workforce in the country. At the same time, it will close its bases in Barcelona, ââGran Canaria and Tenerife, following the closure of its bases in Madrid and Mallorca before the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is just the latest redundancy program announced by large companies in Spain. More than 30,000 workers are expected to be made redundant in the coming months, especially in factories, offices, stores and shopping centers. The unions are working with management, such as in Corte InglÃ©s where more than 8,000 workers will be made redundant.
Norwegian ceased operations in Spain in March 2020 when lockdowns, lockdowns and travel restrictions began. Since then, she has kept all her staff on leave, which will now give way to the layoff plan. The only exception is 215 pilots and cabin crew at its two operational bases in Malaga and Alicante for the summer season.
The company’s two main unions, the United Workers’ Union (UniÃ³n Sindical Obrera – USO) and the Spanish Airline Pilots Union (Sindicato EspaÃ±ol de Pilotos de LÃneas AÃ©reas – SEPLA) feigned surprise at the announcement. In what is now a refrain from Spanish unions whenever a massive layoff plan is announced, a union source at Norwegian said. La Vanguardia, âWe knew an ERE [redundancy scheme] was coming, but we could not imagine this size. “
These statements reveal the reactionary role of unions as appendages of management. The layoff plan was anticipated and SEPLA and USO did nothing to defend the jobs. Instead, they met with the company last November to try to “calm” the workers on leave. Official Norwegian sources told reporters: âThere are regular meetings [with the trade unions] with a certain periodicity since the start of the pandemic.
In January, Norwegian offered to lay off 485 workers by canceling their long-haul flights. The USO has made it clear that it is ready to accept this. His representative Ernesto Iglesias told the press that he “hopes[d] that in the coming days, the airline will present its proposed layoff program and detail its plans for the short-haul fleet where it will also announce layoffs. The unions have not even called for symbolic protests or short-term shutdowns, waiting for the company to formalize the layoffs on April 26.
The magnitude of the redundancy program was predictable. Norwegian is in a process of global restructuring and has carried out similar actions in all the countries where it operates in recent months. Unions in these countries, like USO and SEPLA, have done nothing to defend jobs.
In the UK, after phasing out long-haul flights, Norwegian laid off 1,100 pilots and cabin crew at London Gatwick Airport (LGW). The Unite union, which represented 700 of those workers, said only that it was not consulted on the job losses and that the workers had unpaid wages and severance pay.
In addition to offering legal support to workers, Unite only appealed to the Conservative government while launching a nationalist campaign to prevent workers from leading a necessary united struggle across borders. âUnite warned ministers that the kind of industry support seen in competing countries is desperately needed here. It is now absolutely imperative that the government intervene, âsaid his regional agent Jamie Major.
Facing no opposition, the Norwegian leadership went on the offensive. In February, the company’s bailed-out UK branch told more than 1,000 laid-off employees it could not afford to pay them their final wages or other severance pay. In a final insult, Norwegian told workers they could keep their branded uniforms and cabin bags as a “keepsake” from their time with the airline.
In Italy, Norwegian’s 322 employees were laid off in mid-February, again without notice, after the liquidation of its Italian subsidiary. The company did not even bother to activate the public assistance that workers can benefit from in the event of dismissal.
The Italian Federation of Transport Workers (Federazione Italiana Lavoratori Trasporti – FILT), the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori âCISL) and the Italian Union of Transport Workers (Unione Italiana dei Lavoratori dei Trasporti – UILT) have published a surprise statement: “Norwegian, unexpectedly and without even consulting the unions, has decided to leave hundreds of its employees based in Italy, with their families, on the streets in the midst of a global pandemic”. Their only response was to organize a rally outside the Norwegian embassy.
The next day, Norwegian laid off 286 employees in France, when its French subsidiary declared bankruptcy. The unions have again claimed to have been caught off guard. The workers were informed by a simple text message. As in the Italian case, the company has practically disappeared, still owing wages and allowances to its workers. To date, they remain unpaid, while the company has received 8 million euros in aid from the French state.
The unions limited themselves to taking the company to court. According to Alexandra Lafargue, union representative of the PNUC union in France, they were not even able to apply for unemployment insurance because the liquidators in Ireland – where Norwegian has established its French and Italian subsidiaries – “did not give us any documents. “.
In the United States, Norwegian laid off 514 employees. The airline’s US subsidiary has been widely criticized for using a Singapore-based agency OSM Aviation to hire low-wage, short-term contract workers.
In Finland, the company laid off 283 workers in the same way. In Sweden, it has reduced its workforce from 733 to 59 employees and in Denmark from 734 to 55. In Norway, where the airline has received financial assistance from the government of several hundred million euros, it maintains for now its structure and some 2,000 jobs.
Norwegian co-founder Bjorn Kjos and OSM Aviation owner Bjorn Tore Larsen plan to operate with a new low-cost airline in the United States by December, Norse Atlantic. Reflecting the mass desperation in the industry due to the large number of layoffs around the world, the the Wall Street newspaper reported that on day one, Norse was getting 20 applications per minute. In one week, he received 8,000 applications.
Norse has already received approval from Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) -CWA, AFL-CIO. Despite the massive layoffs imposed by Norwegian at several of its global bases. Nelson said of Norse Atlantic: “We believe the Scandinavians can provide good jobs as flight attendants to uphold labor rights in the United States and Europe.” Nelson added that the airline was happy to work with the AFA.
Not surprising. The AFA has presided over tens of thousands of job cuts in America, including American Airlines (25,000), United Airlines (36,000) and Delta Air Lines (17,000). Their only response has been to advocate for another government-backed corporate bailout for airlines, like their European counterparts.
The massive and global job cuts at Norwegian Air Shuttle reveal the utter inability of unions to defend jobs, wages and conditions. To fight back, workers must look to their only allies – their colleagues at other airlines and airports, including the tens of thousands of other workers on layoffs, and the international working class at large.
The workers need new fighting organizations independent of the unions. The International Committee of the Fourth International calls for the creation of an International Alliance of Workers of Grassroots Committees (IWA-RFC). The IWA-RFC will bring together workers from around the world to face corporate attacks and lead an offensive based on the needs of the workers, not the accumulation of profits for the super-rich.