The baggage handlers’ strike at Brussels Airport is over, after staff at Aviapartner approved a pre-accord reached between unions and management on Wednesday. The strike broke out without warning on 25 October. In the meantime, it not only caused chaos at replacement airports in Liege and Charleroi, it also saw hundreds of outgoing and incoming flights at the country’s main airport in Zaventem – a total of 960 flights in all, affecting some 115,000 passengers. At times the airport resembled a refugee camp, as transit passengers and others with no option were forced to spend the night camped out in the airport itself.
Only airlines partnered with Aviapartner were affected, among them EasyJet, Aer Lingus and TUIFly. Brussels Airlines itself, like other airlines who work with rival handler Swissport, were not affected.
The strikers had two main complaints: a lack of personnel which exacerbated the workload of those in service, and outdated and dilapidated equipment (photo) which had a similar effect.
Under the agreement reached, Aviapartner will spend €3.2 million on new modern equipment to deal with the latter problem. On the manpower front, 27 employees on temporary contracts will be converted to permanent contracts, contracts of 32 workers will be extended, and 40 new temporary staff will be brought in to ease the pressure on existing employees in the company’s various departments.
Whether the new-found peace will last is, however, another question. Aviapartner is in a difficult financial situation, with a credit rating of 0 in 100 because of bad debt. The owners, businessman Laurent Levaux and British venture capital group HIG, still aim to sell the company off for a profit, which is why no investment was being made in equipment. Furthermore, as one former employee told De Standaard, “I worked at the airport for 15 years, and every year there was a strike by baggage handlers”. Aviapartner, say unions, has a dismal record of honouring agreements.
Meanwhile at Brussels Airport, traffic is expected to return to normal without delay, spokesperson for the Brussels Airport Company Anke Fransen said. Passengers on flights serviced by Aviapartner should contact their airline to be certain, or check the Brussels Airport website. The 1,500 pieces of luggage checked in on the first days of the strike remain in the airport. Owners were advised not to travel to Zaventem, but to await instructions for reclaiming their bags from the airport.