Employees at airports have already got it

PARIS – For 18 years, Marie Marivel worked as a security officer at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, checking thousands of passengers and thousands of pieces of baggage every day. It’s always been a taxing job, she said, but recent conditions have made it impossible, given a staffing shortage that nearly doubles her workload and the cost crisis. Living robs her of her modest salary.

As security officers, ground staff, baggage handlers and other airport workers in Paris launched a series of strikes on Friday to demand higher wages and more hiring, Ms. Marinel, 56, is eager to join the fight.

The end of Covid-19 restrictions across Europe has created a major resurgence in air travel, said Ms. “But obviously we are short of staff. And we can no longer make a living,” she said. “Workers are demanding more.”

Europe is bracing for a summer of labor uncertainty as soaring inflation and labor shortages have ignited protests across the economy, in sectors as diverse as the steel industry and garbage collection. waste. The conflict is most apparent in transportation, where strained workforces at airlines, airports and railways have begun to unleash crippling aisles. One Railway strike in the UK last week was the largest in the country in 30 years.

Several walks are planned for this weekend and beyond. Security officers at Hamburg airport in Germany are expected to stage a day-long strike on Friday, demanding better wages. Scandinavian airline SAS pilots are threatening to strike on Saturday as unions negotiate with the company for better pay. British Airways check-in staff will quit at the end of this month, aiming to incite better conditions at Heathrow Airport.

The summer travel season in Europe has begun tarnished by chaos at airports, train stations and major tourist destinations as industry operators struggle to meet resurgent demand. Thousands of flights have been canceled and thousands more are being cut in August by airlines such as Lufthansa and easyJet as companies scramble to find staff or face layoffs.

In Germany, the airline recruitment squeeze has become so severe that the government will quickly seek out thousands of foreign workers, mainly from Turkey, in the coming weeks to ease the shortage. security personnel, check-in and aircraft handling.

However, for the time being, waits of four hours or more in secure lines at major airports such as Heathrow in London and Schiphol in Amsterdam – where travelers are advised to “wear comfortable shoes” because of the staggering delays Surprised at check-in – fixed.

They are likely to flare up again as unions in countries including Spain and Sweden plan a new wave of industrial protests.

At European airports, baggage handlers, ground staff and other workers are hired by airlines and airport outsourcing companies to provide low-cost, one-stop service. product of the European Union’s policy to liberalize competition in this sector. At Charles de Gaulle airport, where Marinel works, a union said more than 800 contracting companies provided staff for a range of services, including check-in and bathroom cleaning.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut in the past two years as air travel has been disrupted by the pandemic. Now, with the sudden surge in demand for air travel, the travel industry finds itself with over 100,000 job vacancies due to layoffs and layoffs during the Covid shutdown.

Eoin Coates, head of aviation at the European Transport Workers Confederation, said: “Working conditions have become so dilapidated that the sector is no longer attractive. Low wages and many jobs split the workday into unattractive shifts that start before dawn or last until midnight or later, he said.

“Meanwhile, across the economy, incomes and purchasing power have shrunk,” he added. “People are at the end of their patience.”

For Europe’s huge tourism sector, the threat of attack could not be more severe. The airline industry has been going strong over the course of a summer to offset high fuel costs, and tourist destinations need a tourism rebound to help revive the national economy.

In at least one case, the labor pressure is paying off. At Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where a lack of ground staff led to a near riot as some travelers were unable to board their planes after hours of security queuing, management and unions agreed to raise wages. and improve working conditions throughout the airport. The deal is intended to limit what unions see as a race to the bottom between airport contractors competing for work through low wages and precarious contracts.

The airport hopes the changes will attract new recruits. The higher costs can be borne by the airlines and ultimately passed on to travelers through fares, but the alternative is further delays and cancellations that can be significantly more expensive.

Laura Nurski, labor economist at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think-tank, said: “Workers are not only well positioned, but also have good reason to bargain and demand higher wages in the workplace. this context. “Airline companies try to offer low fares,” she said. “But when you fly cheap, the cost comes from the wages or conditions of the people who work there.”

Mariel, a Paris airport employee, is among those who say such a situation is no longer sustainable. She said her monthly mortgage is about 1,500 euros (about $1,560), and her monthly rent is 900 euros. The soaring prices of energy, gasoline and food now eat up her paycheck before the next payday.

Ms. Marinel, who works for ICTS France, a company contracted by the Paris airport authorities to provide baggage and security staff for most of us, is in the same position.

Marivel, who is also a member of the Confédération Générale du Travail, one of the French unions demanding higher wages, added.

At the same time, companies like the one for which Ms. Marinel works have struggled to replace those who have been laid off or laid off during the pandemics, putting stress on remaining employees. Some jobs require working weekends or working in different shifts day and night.

Aéroports de Paris, which operates the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, said in a statement that it still needed to find at least 4,000 workers. ICTS did not respond to a request for comment.

“A lot of people have left because they realize there is a life beyond the frantic hours and low pay,” said Ms. “The salary is not good enough for the conditions.”

In a recent campaign to recruit 400 people from an unemployment center near the airport, only 20 people took the job, she added. “Some people come to work, they stay half a day. They take a break from eating, and then we don’t see them again,” said Mariel, whose union is demanding a €300 a month increase.

Whether the momentum will last remains to be seen. Daniel Kral, senior economist at Oxford Economics, said: “While leverage is on workers’ side, it is precisely the conditions that lead to demand for higher wages that are likely to cool down,” said Daniel Kral, economist. senior economist at Oxford Economics, said.

“We have a big cyclical rebound and reopening, which is creating a labor shortage,” Kral said. “But we are also entering a difficult period: There are fears of a major recession, central banks are tightening policy. So this will have a cooling effect on the labor market. “

And while many people are spending lavishly after two years without a vacation, record inflation could quickly reduce the need to travel and save money.

“With inflation sky-high, people are worried about the future, so that will have a big impact on consumers,” Mr. Kral said. “People are spending like crazy now, but they’ll be more sober.”

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