Labor actions looming among Schiphol’s baggage, passenger handlers

With the April/May vacation just around the corner, labor actions are brewing among baggage handlers, passenger handlers, and platform staff at Schiphol Airport. Action posters are hung in canteens, and stickers reading “wages up, work pressure down” are stuck in strategic locations at the airport, AD reports.

In recent months, all focus was on solving labor shortages in airport security. Security companies at the airport recruited 850 new security guards with higher wages and bonuses. But little has changed at the handling companies, employees told AD. “A date had already been set for a wild action. But Schiphol and the handling companies got wind of that. The pressure from above is impressive. They threaten not to pay our salary, or even with dismissal. So we postponed that action,” an anonymous baggage handler said.

Last year, KLM baggage handlers held an unannounced strike on the first weekend of the April/May holidays, kicking off the massive queues and hours-long waiting times that plagued Schiphol for the rest of the year. And the strike had results. KLM got more staff to handle aircraft, luggage, and travelers and worked to improve working conditions.

The staff of the other five handling companies at the airport have not forgotten that success, Jaap de Bie of the trade union FNV told AD. “I do not rule out wild cat actions like last year. The impact of the KLM action was enormous at the time, and the result quickly became clear. In general, we see that wild actions have an effect.”

The trade unions won’t organize any labor actions because that was one of the deals in the “peace agreement” concluded between Schiphol, companies, and handlers last year. According to AD, the agreement also included financial arrangements, but little has come from that.

In the autumn, the handling companies said they did not have the money for wage increases and extra investments in working conditions. Also, they can’t recover the costs from airlines due to ongoing contracts. Airlines say that due to the massive coronavirus losses, they can’t pay more for handling passengers, suitcases, and planes. Schiphol does not have much influence over the handling companies. Where the airport itself is the client that hires security companies, the airlines are the handling companies’ clients.

And so everyone points at each other, De Bie of FNV said. “The deadlock will not be broken. The unrest is growing,’ he told AD. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that unrest surfaces in the coming weeks.”

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