Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day four of the Brussels Airport baggage handlers strike. Is a settlement near? Is there any other choice?

The Great Silence has descended on the Brussels Airport baggage strike. Is it a good omen that a settlement is near?

by Tom Thorne, Brugge Belgium 15 May 2013

In the world of labour relations often the Great Silence descends as the sides of a dispute get down to the short strokes, solving their problems and finally agreeing. The Brussels Airport baggage handler's strike may be in that mode at the moment.

We can only hope that this silence is a good omen. This morning no one was answering calls at my airline or answering my emails for information. Yesterday I contacted Swissfort the company the baggage handlers work for, asking them to comment and to this moment they have not replied. 

My guess and hope as a stranded passenger is that the silence and the lack of rhetoric signals progress. My wife and I just want to go home. Apparently senior Swissfort managers are at the table along with representatives of the Belgian government's Ministry of Labour. 

The negotiators will all be tiptoeing around the issues so no one's nose is out of joint and the political facts of labour-government-management are not tipped too far from the usual status quo as Europe wallows in its recessional woes.

Now here is some food for thought for the airlines involved. Information flow to passengers is very important and thinking out of the usual box is also needed in a crisis like this one. The trouble with this idea is the very company in negotiations with the baggage handlers provides the check in and other passenger services too.

So a big firm like Swissfort has the power to control an airport while they go about dealing with their unions often at the expense of passengers who are caught up in their corporate ethos. Swissfort is such a company. They are big and provide all aspects of services to freight haulers, airlines and airports. They are probably too big. A recent poll of their employees ranked their management as remote and uncaring. If that is the attitude around the table it is a recipe for disaster and mistrust.

When their services are working all parts of contemporary travel by plane seem to work well. The check in is good the baggage systems rarely fail or loose luggage. The public and the airlines and the airports are happy. However in the case of Brussels Airport Swissfort holds lot of the business and in the case of this baggage strike a vital and sizable part of service to passengers is compromised when there is a labour action.

The current baggage handlers believe they are understaffed and overworked. That may be true because turfing 25 kilo bags around can be tiring. However this notion of entitlement in contemporary European labour relations is being severely tested by the recession's impact on labour demands and expectations contrasted against management's view of profitability of their operations. More people on the baggage lines means more costs and those costs could very easily these days be invested in automation in the next few years rather than into pay packets for unhappy or surly workers with status quo high expectations.

So we are faced as passengers with the results of an economic European recession playing out in the bowels of the airport baggage handling. The truth is European labour and its lax laws is in a state of change and a dose of reality. Too much is expected and the pretense of business as usual remembering the good old days of post war expansion of business and the Euro social programs is now under great stress throughout the Euro Zone. That is the context I am experiencing as a passenger just wanting to go home with my luggage.

© Copyright 2013 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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