On June 1 and June 2, airport workers are demonstrating at more than 30 airports in at least nine countries on five continents to highlight to the public their concerns that large-scale subcontracting of airport jobs is hurting workers’ health, cutting their pay and doing away with any job security – which they insist is prejudicial to airport security and aviation safety.
By the morning of May 31 in the Eastern USA, workers at 31 airports around the world – in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and the USA – had confirmed they would demonstrate with banners and hand out leaflets to members of the public to detail the detrimental effects of subcontracting thousands of airport jobs.
Workers from additional airports in those nine and other countries were expected to confirm by the afternoon of May 31 their participation in the global programme of demonstrations.
Wearing work clothes, airport workers from Ireland and other countries will also demonstrate outside the IATA Annual General Meeting in Dublin on June 2, giving leaflets to all attendees who pass through the entrances to the hall in which the event is being held.
At the same time, a few minutes’ walk away from the IATA AGM, a new airport workers’ union group called Airports United – bringing together aviation workers’ unions from Australia, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the USA – will hold a press conference at the Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge to explain Airports United’s mission.
The press conference also will detail research that Airports United has performed to highlight the long-term trend to subcontract most essential airport workers’ jobs to third-party subcontractors.
According to Airports United, some of these subcontractors do not pay their workers national guaranteed minimum wage levels and virtually all of them don’t offer their employees full-time jobs with health and retirement benefits.
Airports United says its research “shows that although the global airline industry is expected to make record profits of USD36.3 billion this year, airlines have created a race to the bottom, putting airport workers, safety and the quality of services under pressure”.
The Airports United research is published in an 18-page report whose research is fully referenced with citations from academic papers from scholars in various countries and published reports from institutions such as the European Commission and IATA.
In the report, many airport workers are quoted personally on how the conditions they face in their subcontracted jobs are prejudicing not only their health and financial security but are also causing worrying lapses in airport security and aviation safety.
The report also cites many documented instances from airports in various countries where – because subcontractors are employing only part-time workers – worsening airport-worker pay and job security, workforce reductions and poor-quality equipment are creating high rates of employee turnover.
According to Airports United, this high turnover is creating major security concerns because thousands of airport workers – whose backgrounds often haven’t been checked thoroughly and many of whom have only the bare minimum of training – are frequently creating security breaches inadvertently.
Additionally, high rates of part-time subcontractor employee turnover are also impacting aviation safety – and bottom lines – by increasing the risk of inadequately trained, inexperienced part-time workers operating airport vehicles and airport ground equipment creating ground collisions with aircraft, the report states.
The Airports United report also indicates that large-scale usage of subcontractors to provide part-time workers for essential airport jobs is strongly affecting the ability of airports to manage crises effectively.
The report states: “Furthermore, a large subcontracted workforce, managed by several employers, creates adverse conditions for a unified, coordinated airport response in the event of an emergency.
“At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), for example, 8900 airport service workers are employed by 60 contractors. When a gunman entered the airport on 1 November 2013, killing one man and injuring three others, it revealed the inadequacy of the communications system between the airport authorities, the airlines, the contractors, and eventually, workers on the frontline of the emergency.”
In making this assertion, Airports United cites a 2014 report published by North America's Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
This report, which assesses important findings from the incident in its aftermath, is entitled ‘Standing up for passenger safety at LAX’ and is available on SEIU’s website at http://www.seiu-usww.org/files/2014/03/lax-white-pages-3-4-14.pdf.
The SEIU report states: “Few airport service workers learned about the shooting from official sources such as their employers (service contractors), airlines or LAWA [Los Angeles World Airports],” the operator of LAX.
SEIU’s report adds: “Absent pro-active, official communication, coordination – if any had been planned – broke down.”
Both the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Uni Global Union have expressed their official support for Airports United.
The ITF is an international federation of some 700 trade unions in 147 countries, representing nearly 4.8 million transport workers, including more than 650,000 aviation workers. Uni Global Union represents 20 million workers in the skills and services sectors in more than 150 countries.
Commenting on Airports United, Steve Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, said in a media statement: “Airports United is made up of the workers who are the backbone of this successful world industry. In return they’re being worked harder, for less, without job security.”
Cotton added: “More and more airline and airport services are being farmed out to subcontractors where, all too often, working conditions are poor. This has led to high staff turnover and an inexperienced workforce.
“The workers themselves tell us that this is leading to flight delays, an increased risk of security breaches – newer workers are almost twice as likely to be unwittingly involved in these – and corners being cut as workers race to meet turnaround times with fewer and fewer staff, putting personal and aircraft safety at risk.
Cotton concluded: “This new emerging network [Airports United] represents tens of thousands of airport workers in over 100 airports globally and aims to grow significantly over the next few years. It is launching with a clear mission to improve the industry for all concerned. The ITF is proud to back it.”
To date, Airports United includes as member organisations the unions FNV, SEIU, Swedish Transport Workers’ Union, TWU, UNITE HERE, and ver.di.
But if members of these unions who are airport employees manage to create enough publicity – and to influence any IATA AGM attendees – on their many June 1 and June 2 demonstrations at airports throughout the world and in the centre of Dublin, it’s possible Airports United could soon become much bigger.