SAS airline pilots warn of potential strike from late June

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FILE PHOTO: SAS Airbus A320 planes are parked at Copenhagen airport in Kastrup

By Stine Jacobsen and Helena Soderpalm

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -Some 1,000 SAS pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden could go on strike from late June over disagreements on wages and ways to cut costs at the struggling Nordic airline, labour unions said, drawing a sharp rebuke from the company.

"We have been negotiating for months without being able to agree," Danish Pilot Union leader Henrik Thyregod said in a statement on Thursday.

"We have gone to great lengths to help SAS, and we have offered the company huge savings. But we can under no circumstances agree to deteriorations (or wage cuts) of more than 30%, which SAS demands," he said.

Unions and management have negotiated since last November and the collective agreement between the airline and the SAS Pilot Group union expired on April 1.

If an agreement is not possible, Danish pilots could go on strike from June 24 but would likely wait until June 29 when Swedish pilots can strike at the earliest according to local regulation, Danish chief negotiator Keld Baekkelund told Reuters.

The news comes at a difficult time for loss-making SAS, which seeks to restructure its business by undertaking large cost cuts, raising new cash and converting debt to equity as part of a plan to rescue the carrier from collapse.

"We think this is totally outrageous and shocking and shows a lack of understanding," an SAS spokesperson said, adding that the company was still hoping that it would not come to an actual strike.

"But just sending the signal by giving notice is extremely unfortunate," the spokesperson said.

The company has already cancelled many flights ahead of the busy summer season, part of a wider trend in Europe and across the globe that has seen labour strife and staffing shortages impacting travel.

"This is not what our customers want to hear, and it's not what the company needs at this point," the SAS spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Nordic rival Norwegian Air said it had secured a wage deal for its 668 pilots employed in Norway, stretching to October of 2023.

SAS' share price fell 5.5% by 1353 GMT to an all-time low of 0.626 Swedish crowns.

(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen and Helena Soderpalm in Stockholm, editing by Terje Solsvik and Bernadette Baum)

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