Pilots at the struggling Baltic carrier Estonian Air announced on Friday they would go on strike from January 7, demanding a return to a collective pay deal that was voided by the company.
The Estonian Airline Pilots Association, which represents all of the carrier's 75 pilots, warned that it could not accept plans to end a five-year-old agreement from February.
"We expect most of the pilots to be on strike," Rauno Menning, chairman of the association's board, told AFP. In a statement, Estonian Air said the strike call was a surprise.
"Estonian Air has offered pilots a collective agreement that is line with the market and competitive situation and follows all EU flight safety requirements," the carrier's chief executive Jan Palmer was quoted as saying.
Menning faulted that stance.
"We are surprised that the company is surprised by the strike news, because we made the decision in November to go strike if needed, so Estonian Air knew this was a possibility," he told AFP. Estonian Air had just warded off industrial action by other employees through a deal last week with the Estonian Air Cabin Crew Union, which is valid to the end of 2013.
State-controlled Estonian Air has made repeated efforts to cut its losses. In November, the airline said it would slash staff numbers by half, from 318 to 146. Estonian Air operates a small fleet of 10 planes.
Created in 1991, the year the Baltic republic of 1.3 million regained its independence from the Soviet Union, the airline has had mixed fortunes. It was privatised in 1996, and from 2003 to 2010 was almost evenly split between the state, which owned 51 percent, and Scandinavian carrier SAS, with 49 percent.
Since then, the state has gradually raised its holding to the current 97 percent, but says its wants to find a new strategic investor. Estonian Air's revenues in the first nine months of 2012 were 70.4 million euros ($93 million), compared with 58.7 million euros in the same period of 2011.
But nine-month losses reached 20.2 million euros, up from 11.2 million euros in the same period a year earlier.