August 5, 2017
Holidaymakers forced to queue for hours as security staff hold rolling strikes over low pay and poor conditions
Holidaymakers have been waiting in queues hundreds of metres long at Barcelona airport after security staff began a series of rolling strikes.
The staff are protesting against low pay and poor working conditions in a series of staggered, hour-long strikes every Friday, Sunday and Monday until 14 August, when a 24-hour walkout is planned if the dispute is not resolved.
On Friday there were strikes between 5.30am and 6.30am, and 10.30am and 11.30am.
Travellers, mostly Spanish people setting off on their holidays, faced waits of up to three hours by late afternoon local time in queues that wound through the entire departure lounge in Terminal 1 and over two floors in Terminal 2.
“We arrived at T2 at 4.30am for a 6.30am flight and it really looked like we weren’t going to make it,” said Oscar Muñoz. “But then at the last moment they opened a couple more checkpoints and we got through in time.”
Many travellers appeared to be forewarned and arrived with time to spare, or so they hoped.
“We knew about it so we came early,” said Jan Surill, 45, a Dutch businessman travelling to the US with his family. “We’ve waited an hour and I hope we’ll get through on time. But it’s a strike, so what can you do?”
Airport authorities set up a “fast track” gate for people travelling with small children, but the service was not publicised so most families continued to queue with everyone else.
Last week more than 1,000 people missed their flights out of Barcelona as a result of the industrial action. Those affected could try to claim compensation from the Spanish airport authority, Aena. Generally, airlines will not accept responsibility for missed flights caused by airport delays.
El Prat airport is Spain’s second busiest after Madrid. Passenger traffic rose by more than 60% from 2009-16, driven by the arrival of low-cost flights to the tourist destination. The airport processed 44 million passengers last year, with 200,000 people passing through each day during peak season.
An emergency meeting at 9am between the strike committee and Eulen, the security contractor, failed to reach an agreement, although both sides claimed it “had gone well”. The regional Catalan government was expected to convene a meeting later in the day.
Barcelona’s airport, like others in Europe, was also affected by delays in police passport controls after new EU regulations were introduced several weeks ago.
Aena awarded Eulen a €23m (£21m), two-year contract to run security at El Prat. The authority was wholly state-owned until February 2015 when 49% was floated on the stock exchange.
Unions say standards have fallen as the company tries to increase shareholder value. “Before privatisation, Aena was a profitable public company and a model of good management,” a spokesman for the Comisiones Obreras union said. Shares in the company had risen by 130% in the two years since the flotation.
Security staff say that understaffing and a basic monthly salary of €900-€1,100 (£812–£990) forces them to work overtime.
Aena has threatened Eulen with a €300,000 fine if it doesn’t improve its service, which it says is “causing grave damage to the airport’s image”. Eulen claims it invested an extra €450,000 at El Prat in early July, but the extra money failed to resolve the conflict.
Marti Serrate, the president of Spain’s travel agency association Acave, urged people to go to the airport at least four hours early.