English Corner

Zurich Airport staff are sounding the alarm about the spring holidays. Image: Adobe Stock

Staff at baggage handling at their limit

Delays and departures are imminent at Zurich Airport due to a protest by Swissport employees. The ground handling team is grappling with mounting dissatisfaction stemming from excessive workloads.

With the conclusion of the first major travel surge of the year, during the Easter holidays, Zurich airport now braces for the upcoming spring holidays, drawing in scores of Swiss travellers, eager for distant destinations. However, this surge translates into a heightened rush at the airport.

As «20 Minuten» writes, the VPOD air transport union is concerned about the upcoming holidays. "A high volume of work is coming, already tired and dissatisfied employees at Swissport Zurich," the union reports. "Nevertheless, employees have gone the extra mile so far and ensured that the majority of aircraft were able to take off on time."

This commitment is often paid for with their own mental and physical well-being. "This will come to an end during the spring holidays," he warns. Dissatisfaction among employees at Swissport Zurich remains acute, fueled by various grievances.

Wages are well below Switzerland’s median income and yet Swissport 2024 employees are not being fully compensated for inflation. The staff are pushed to their limit, leading to avoidable accidents

Swissport justifies itself

In response, Swissport spokeswoman Mara Bauer dismisses any safety concerns: «The safety of employees and compliance with the applicable safety regulations and processes is a top priority at Swissport. Recurring training sessions are organised for this purpose, and Swissport also trains employees in safe lifting and carrying».

As was already the case over the Easter holidays, Swissport's staffing levels for the spring holidays have been adjusted to the announced flight and passenger volumes. Sufficient staff are available and planned. «In March 2024, the company had 400 more employees than in the same period last year, with similar flight volumes,» says Bauer.

Addressing the wage allegation, the company says: «Swissport is the only ground handling service provider in Switzerland that has a collective labour agreement and pays its employees a salary that is above the industry average». Moreover, she notes that employees will receive an inflation adjustment of 80 percent slated for 2024 as per the collective labor agreement.

«Safety Week» could cause delays

According to VPOD Air Transport, the Seco guidelines for lifting and carrying loads in the baggage area are «virtually never complied with». If this was consistently observed, almost twice the number of employees would have to be made available to handle the baggage, according to the union. As a result, a single employee now has to move several tonnes of luggage a day using pure muscle power.

If all safety regulations were consistently adhered to, «the system would not work in this form». When asked whether there may be delays during the spring holidays, Stefan Brülisauer, Regional Secretary at VPOD Air Transport, says: «Of course there may be delays. But safety always comes before punctuality!»

The union is calling on Swissport Zurich employees to take part in a «Safety Week» from 22 to 28 April. This means that employees should strictly adhere to the existing safety regulations - with the risk that an aircraft may have to take off without a suitcase.