* Norwegian Air, Europe’s third-biggest budget airline
* Strike to involve 70 pilots initially, could escalate later
* Pilots demand a collective deal with parent company (Adds Norwegian Air statement)
OSLO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Some pilots at Norwegian Air , Europe’s third-biggest budget airline, will go on strike from Saturday after talks with the airline broke up shortly after midnight, the labour union Parat said.
The strike will initially involve 70 pilots, but could be sharply escalated to 650 pilots on a short notice if there is no deal reached over a collective agreement and work conditions, it added on its website.
Norwegian NTB news agency reported that the strike could be escalated from Wednesday.
“Norwegian’s goal is to operate all flights on Saturday and Sunday as planned, as only a limited number of pilots are on strike this weekend,” the airline said in a statement.
It said it was ready to involve pilots currently working in administrative roles and pilots from its subsidiaries to make sure that only a limited number of passengers is affected.
Norwegian flights to Britain, as well as long-haul routes to the United States and Asia will operate as normal, it added.
The data on its website showed only one local flight cancelled on Saturday, but it was not immediately clear whether the cancellation was related to the strike.
The pilots have demanded a collective labour agreement with the Norwegian Air parent company instead of its local subsidiaries, and have asked for uniform terms across the Nordic region.
The pilots said they have feared that their social security will be weakened as the company seeks to cut costs.
Chief Executive Bjoern Kjos pledged to cut the airline’s costs in Scandinavia after it reported wider-than-expected fourth-quarter losses on Feb. 12 due to its fuel hedging, a weaker Norwegian crown and high costs..
The airline said it has proposed several cost reduction measures to ensure a “sustainable company and secure jobs in the future”, but those were rejected by the union.
“We have great respect for the effective and efficient operation, but it is impossible to accept that the company will dictate and create its own rules...,” said Parat’s leader Hans-Erik Skjaeggerud. (Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Ken Wills)