Norwegian Air continues fight with unions in France


French employees left without pay

While Norwegian Air is focusing on a massive restructuring process, attempts to raise new capital, and emerge from bankruptcy in Ireland and Norway, the airline’s employees in France, who were left jobless and uncompensated, are taking legal action to push the air carrier’s subsidiary Norwegian Air Resources France into liquidation.

The ex-staff of the low-cost long-haul carrier claims that after Norwegian Air Resources (NAR Ireland), the subsidiary of Norwegian Air, entered creditors voluntary liquidation in Ireland in January 2021, its French branch has left them in a complicated situation. 

A group of 286 employees, including 145 pilots, 136 cabin crew, and 5 administrative staff members, complains that the French branch left them jobless while their contracts were still valid, this way preventing them from benefiting from the state-guaranteed salary insurance. 

The staff also claims that the company has left them without wages for more than two months and has not allocated any severance payments or other compensation for unemployment. 

Despite that NAR France was legally obligated to inform the local social and economic committee, CSE, as well as its employees about the changes of the parent company’s status, the French branch allegedly has not provided any updates on the issue since NAR Ireland went into liquidation. When the CSE chose the accounting firm to obtain a balance sheet from both entities NAR France and NAR Ireland in order to conduct an audit, the management of the French branch reportedly did not provide one and the audit failed. 

Representative of the cabin crew union UNAC Alexandra Lafargue affirmed to the French media that due to the lack of documents that could prove the NAR France’s insolvency to the CSE,  the staff was still unable to get the wage guarantee insurance from the French wage guarantee insurance association AGS.

On May 5, 2021, the confused employees appealed to the Bobigny Commercial Court aiming to open a liquidation procedure of the NAR French branch and appoint a liquidator in France. The staff hoped that the move would make them able to benefit from the government and gain some income as per the French labor law. Meanwhile, Fiodor Rilov, the attorney representing the interests of the staff, claimed that if the court opened liquidation procedure of the French branch and a French liquidator was appointed, the French wage guarantee insurance association ASG would be able to intervene in the liquidation process and guarantee the remuneration for the employees.

The uncertainty about wages and severance pay in NAR France began in mid-January 2021, when Norwegian Air, the parent company of NAR Ireland, announced the decision to drop its long-haul business model and permanently closed its base at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). The move affected 286 employees, which were reportedly informed about the base closure by a simple internal letter from the air carrier.

AeroTime has reached out to Norwegian Air for comment regarding the situation. Philip Allport, the Director for Internal Communications at Norwegian Air, said: “We understand and appreciate the concern that this situation has raised for our employees based in France and Italy. The employer, Norwegian Air Resources Limited, has been placed into liquidation due to no longer having the necessary funds to meet its financial obligations.”

“This process is now being handled by the liquidators KPMG who are actively engaging with employee representatives to ensure a swift resolution,” Allport added.

Norwegian’s ghosted employees across Europe

After Norwegian Air had filed for bankruptcy proceedings in Ireland and ceased all its long-haul operations across Europe leaving thousands of staff members unemployed, NAR Ireland reportedly cut ties with national unions without informing them that it had stepped into liquidation. 

The recent situation of the 286 French employees seems similar to the one of Italian workers, who went on a protest in February 2021, after Norwegian Air allegedly unexpectedly and without notice had shut the base at Rome–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO). According to the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), NAR Italy concealed the information that the air carrier had started a bankruptcy process of the NAR Ireland as well as its Italian subsidiary. 

Italian unions claimed that the news regarding the NAR Ireland and NAR Italy liquidation came out of the blue as the Italian branch informed the employees about changes only after the Irish Court had already proceeded to appoint two bankruptcy trustees. As a result, a group of Italian employees were left jobless and in uncertainty if they would get their salaries or severance pay. 

Italian unions claimed they were not given a chance to step into discussions with the company prior to the base closure. They did try to speak with Norwegian Air management about options to take advantage of the welfare tools available in the country. However, unions were reportedly told that since the liquidation process of the Italian branch had already begun, they could only interact with liquidators appointed by the Irish Court.

Denied an opportunity to interact with Norwegian Air prior to NAR Ireland and its Italian branch liquidation, the Italian employees lost a chance to claim new welfare tools made available by the Italian government, three unions claimed. Besides, the staff was put at risk of being stuck in limbo while waiting for court-appointed liquidators to take further decisions. The Italian employees outlined a similar situation to French workers by claiming that since the liquidation process could last for an indefinite time,  they were not able to apply for Italian unemployment benefits.

Uniforms and cabin bags instead of wage

In January 2021, Norwegian Air Shuttle also decided to close its base at London Gatwick Airport (LGW), leaving around 1,100 pilots and cabin crew without a job. In February 2021, the airline’s staff, represented by the British trade union Unite the Union, claimed that they had been “thrown under a bus” by the airline. Despite being promised they would be paid if Norwegian Air Shuttle entered into administration, the British employees were reportedly offered to keep their uniforms and branded cabin bags instead.

The British union also raised concerns over £10.5 million that was promised by the government to NAR Ireland operations but was never received. The money could permit paying the staff the owed wages but the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) said that employees were “left with nothing” at the time. The staff was reportedly told they would not be paid owed salary, holiday, or notice pay despite contrary assurances from the airline.

“The airline continues in Norway and has received significant government bailouts there, and yet the whole company is being liquidated in the UK and its employees left high and dry,” was written in BALPA’s statement in February 2021.

 





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