By Putu Deny Wijaya
KLM Receives Blame from Unions for Strikes, Chaos at Schiphol Airport this Weekend
With Dutch schools closing for the May holiday on Friday, Schiphol Airport was gearing up for its biggest weekend since Covid-19 broke out in March 2020. The Dutch airport had already advised travelers in the run-up to the weekend that they could expect large crowds and long lines throughout the airport: “Travelers can expect longer than usual waiting times due to the increased number of visitors and the paucity of employees.”
According to spokeswoman Dennis Muller, the airport is preparing to receive a comparable number of passengers as in the pre-pandemic period. Between April 23 and May 8, an average of 174,000 people per day are expected at Schiphol, with “very busy days, such as weekends, reaching up to 200,000 travelers,” according to Muller.
Unions have warned that unless KLM tackles staffing shortages, the summer will be chaotic. On Saturday, passengers confronted huge lines. Unions have warned that the tumultuous events at Schiphol airport this weekend could be repeated unless KLM resolves their issues over working conditions before the summer.
Travelers Stranded, Flights Delayed Due to KLM Strike.
However, things did not go as planned due to a strike by KLM luggage handlers, which resulted in thousands of passengers being stranded. Around 150 ground crew members staged a walkout around 6 a.m. Saturday, preventing bags from being loaded or unloaded on separate aircraft. On Saturday morning, baggage handlers launched a six-hour strike, causing two days of delays and cancellations at the start of the May school break, one of the busiest weeks of the year for the local travel industry.
Other means of transportation were impacted by the strike, with all Eurostar trains sold out and access roads to Schiphol shut down while about 150 flights were canceled over the weekend. Staff frustration boiled over, according to unions, when KLM sent out an email last week warning them of plans to outsource some baggage handling duties.
“In 2020, KLM left all the flexible workers in the lurch on the premise that they will come back,” said Michiel Wallaard, a CNV Vakmensen executive in a statement. “The management has done little to improve their attractiveness as an employer.”
Concerns about the travel industry Baggage handlers have demanded that their salary be increased from 11.50 euros ($12.14) per hour – barely above the minimum wage of 11.06 euros per hour – to 14, and their workload be reduced.
After a few hours, Schiphol advised any customers booked on flights before 3 p.m. to avoid going to the airport at all, as staff worked to compensate for the strikes’ delays. “This is an extreme and highly inconvenient precaution that Schiphol has to adopt in the interest of safety,” the airport wrote on its website.
The news that some of the employees’ duties would soon be outsourced to Viggo, an external luggage handling company, sparked the KLM walkout. According to the Dutch Trade Union Confederation (FNV), this revelation was “the final straw” for workers who had already complained about poor pay and flexible contracts and were now concerned that they would lose their jobs soon.
One of the goals of outsourcing employment, according to KLM, is to relieve stress on employees. The turbulence, along with a jump in bookings following two years of pandemic restrictions, is expected to cause problems during peak season, according to Frans Oostdam, chair of the travel trade group ANVR.
“It’s up to the airlines and Schiphol to make sure everything is in order, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to do it,” Oostdam said told local outlet the Telegraaf. High sickness absence due to coronavirus infections is causing gaps in employee rotas and putting additional strain on coworkers, with unions FNV and De Unie threatening more strikes if the problems are not rectified quickly.
“There is a lot of discontent, but the administration appears to have little grasp of it,” said Reinier Castelein, a spokeswoman for De Unie. “This type of communication to management has widespread support throughout many divisions. It appears to be a case of corporate indifference.”
Various unions have blamed the chaotic scenes at the Netherlands’ major airport on KLM management after a workers’ strike left customers suffering substantial delays and cancelled flights at Schiphol over the weekend: “[They’re] not putting any effort into improving their employer appeal.”
KLM Management Receives Blame from Dutch Unions
The FNV has blamed KLM management for the strike and the resulting disruption, stating De Telegraaf that management lacks a “social antenna.” Michiel Wallaard of CNV Vakmensen supported this sentiment, saying, “Management is putting no energy into becoming more desirable as an employer again.” They have no idea how to make room for improvements [for workers].”
While the walkout was called off after only a few hours, KLM has yet to reach an agreement with its employees, according to FNV. Various travel organizations cautioned De Telegraaf that if these concerns and KLM’s employee shortages are not rectified immediately, it could lead to more drama and disturbance at Schiphol, particularly during the summer.