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Turkey: New law aims to ban strikes in aviation sector

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

From LabourStart.

On 10th May, Metin Külünk, a deputy of the ruling political party, proposed an amendment to Article 29 of the existing Collective Labour Agreement, Strike and Lock-Out Law as follows: “It shall not be lawful to call a strike or order a lock-out in the following activities … Banking, public notaries and aviation services.” Such an amendment would be a serious blow to the right to strike in Turkey and will bring major loss of income and hard-won rights for unionized aviation workers. This repressive parliamentary motion is now the subject of an ILO complaint submitted by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). As a reaction to this unprecedented attack Turkish Airlines workers went on mass sick leave on May 29, 2012, at 3am. In fact Turkish Civil Aviation Union (Hava-İş) members have been left with no alternative other than taking this latest action. On the very same day hundreds of them received text messages to their phones informing them that they were sacked without compensation.

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Baggage handlers on strike at Stansted

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Swissport baggage handlers are in the middle of a series of strike actions in response to roster changes that will take place over a three week period.

The action is as follows;

Wednesday 23 May from 5.30am ends 5.30am on Thursday 24 May
Saturday 26 May from 5.30am ends 5.30am Monday 28 May
Saturday 2 June from 5.30am ends 5.30am Wednesday 6 June

This is part of the strike action that was originally threatened at Easter.
Members of the Unite union voted for strike action by an overwhelming 94.4 per cent on an impressive 90 per cent turnout.

This is remarkable and I fully support the brave workers for taking action in defensive of themselves as well as everyone in civil aviation, however I have written before how these actions have to try and push themselves outside of the union framework – as the long fight at Liverpool Airport demonstrated.

Flying Low: Grad opportunities working lates

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Philip Stott continues The Commune’s series on casual work with an essay on his experience as an airport baggage-handler and aircraft cleaner

After graduating from university, I immediately started working for an agency who specialise in providing workers for the aviation industry. I thought I would write about two of my ‘assignments’.

Servisair are imposing redundancies on Liverpool baggage handlers, as the job becomes increasingly casualised

The first of these was as an aircraft cleaner for Derichebourg Multiservices at Liverpool Airport. I was part of a group of people in our twenties, some of whom travelled from as far away as Bury, who were taken on in order to work through the busy summer period. We worked a shift pattern, 10pm-6am; four days on, two days off and were paid an agency rate of £6.68 an hour (pretty bad for night work). Refuelling operators were the best paid and worked shifts, 8pm–8am, four days on, four off. There had been no pay rise at all for five years.

Although the work was not glamorous, this was to be expected. What really struck me was the condition of the equipment. For example, the company’s catering van had been saved from the scrap yard, each cleaning van had a door that was jammed shut and they were prone to breaking down. This could mean we would have to walk across the airfield in the wind and the rain carrying our vacuum cleaners, mops and cleaning equipment. Also, the airport did not have enough working Ground Power Units, so we would sometimes have to radio someone from Servisair to bring one round for us. Not great when you were rushing to get home so you could try and get in bed before it got light.

One of my favourite things about this job was the amount of stuff you would find left behind by passengers. Especially during the school holidays, when under the piles of rubbish, euro notes and iPods were common finds. Once I found 100 cigarettes and a litre of Bacardi – this made a nice supplement to our crappy wages.

A new supervisor had taken over a few months before I started and had made an effort to stamp her authority. Although efforts had always been made to make people work more for less money, it was her arrival that had turned ‘a nice little job’ into one that everyone hated. This had caused one of the team leaders to become obviously depressed, whilst the other developed stress related health problems, both left whilst I was working there.

Agency workers were almost segregated from working with the older staff. We would usually clean Ryanair planes with the supervisor whilst the permanent staff would clean EasyJet. We were constantly told how lazy the older staff were. This had its effect on people and on one particular night, a young woman got in such an argument with the supervisor that she felt she had to run off the plane and flee down the airfield, never to be seen again. There was some talk of members of airside security co-signing a letter of protest in relation to the way she was treated, but this did not get anywhere. When I did work on the EasyJet planes I found out that the lads worked just fine, it was only that they hated the supervisor so whenever ‘she’ was on a plane with them they would go on a go-slow.

Life got much easier once the two team leaders had left. A temporary team leader was brought in from London. He kept complaining how he had never worked in such shoddy conditions and would always let us do a half arsed job. Airside security were going through pay negotiations whilst I was there, some people enquired to their union rep about taking industrial action, but the GMB had signed a no strike agreement and they were told this was not an option.

The other cleaning lads made a formal grievance to the company about pay, but I have not heard of any developments since. It was an open secret that the company wanted to get rid of the old hands, I have since learned that the new team leader (who was used as a scab during the 2009 baggage handler strike and is the son of the airport’s chief firefighter) fabricated stories in order to try and get two of my old mates sacked.

A note on the manager. He had previously been the manager of a Sainsbury’s store and had been taken on by Derichebourg for crazy money. He was hardly ever on site but spent most his time at work doing what was no doubt crucial paperwork. We were often understaffed as agency workers were not replaced, this would involve Derichebourg having to fork out for a 60 day security pass from the airport and was not going to happen. The manager would sometimes help out when we were understaffed. Now, I did not mind that he worked slower than us but he did not even know what we had to do and I would have to instruct him on what our job was. For the money he was paid I found this bizarre.

Whilst writing this I have heard that the Derichebourg workers at Liverpool airport have not been paid their wages for the last month’s work.

Handling baggage

I was rewarded for my obedience with a job as a baggage handler for Swissport International at Manchester Airport. The hourly rate for agency was £7.20. The worst thing for me about this job was the hours, with shifts starting as early as 4am and finishing as late as 11:30pm. For the first month I was rostered an average of thirty hours a week, easily enough to survive off, but these were cut the next month. Many people made up their hours through overtime, but as a sleep lover, I did not fancy only eleven hours between shifts. Many of the workers also did foreigners outside of work hours.

Most agency workers were a mixture of guys in their early twenties living at home and those in their sixties who had been made redundant from their skilled jobs and were working for a few more years before they retired, some people were so desperate for work that they drove from Southport. It will be no surprise to readers of The Commune that people are earning less now than they have ever earned in their lives, in fact, the hourly rate for a baggage handler at Manchester Airport is about the same as it was in the 1990s.

Although I got on with most of the guys, there was a significant amount of people who made it clear that they did not want agency workers there and would not give you the time of day. Despite the fact that I could understand this, it was I who felt hard done by when I was working next to people earning more than three times as much as me, as I worked all the public holidays over Christmas.

The work itself was incredibly easy. Swissport seemed to have chosen a strategy of having a large, low paid and casualised workforce, so that unlike in Liverpool, I was not rushed off my feet. This meant we had lots of down time with nothing to do. Although this produced the effect of making me extremely bored and always looking for work to do, one guy I knew would leave the airport and make the long walk in-between airport terminals just to make himself look busy. This was very different guys working for Menzies: they got paid more but actually had to work hard every day. Swissport saved their money on equipment. Whereas the bag halls at Manchester Airport are full Servisair trailers, I frequently had to drive around the airport looking for Swissport trailers to load flights onto. The only times I had to exert myself was when loading flights to Pakistan: as these are not holiday flights, most bags weigh about 32kg; however, you work in a team of two, which really helps deal with the boredom. Loading a flight usually involves sitting around waiting for three or four hours whilst the passengers check in, there is a bit of a rush near the end but this is easily dealt with. Loading the large Airbus A380 Emirates flight to Dubai was hard due to the different amounts of classes involved, but this responsibility was rarely given to agency workers.

The young women taken on to work on the check in desk were treated particularly badly, though. After all the security checks they had to go through to get the job, they would be lucky to work twenty hours a week and would sometimes even be sent home once they arrived at work as they were not needed. This meant that they would be much better off claiming JSA, although some of them had their eyes on becoming air hostesses in the future and saw this as a way into the job.

I later learnt that Swissport were paid by the government to take people on, in order to reduce unemployment figures, so they had no incentive to give you any more hours and would not need to replace you if you left.

One of the biggest concerns for agency workers was the way we paid tax. Our agency used some dodgy payroll company that kept changing its name and every week we would pay less than a pound in tax, as the payroll company would claim large amounts of ‘expenses’ for us. Although some people received large tax bills for this, many people thought it was actually better to remain an agency worker than to sign on with the company as we were taking home more money.

Power in a union?

During the training period at work the shop steward was invited round and gave each of us a form to join Unite, he openly bragged with the other rep about how great it was to go down to London and drink lots of free beer. The new bag-hall manager was the old union rep who had been rewarded for his militancy with a nice manager’s job. There was graffiti throughout the bag hall depicting the steward as a jelly fish with no backbone. I did sheepishly ask when branch meetings were held and was laughed at in response and told not to ask. As the biggest handling company at the airport, a Servisair worker held the branch secretary’s position. Happy with this, he had decided not to hold a branch meeting for months.

The Liverpool baggage handlers’ strike that lasted two months started shortly after I started work in Manchester. I was glad to hear that my old friends in Liverpool were visiting the picket lines but there was very little discussion of it in Manchester, except that people would not mind being called ‘scab’, if the rumours were true about getting £100 for a single day’s work.

A rare piece of good news is that after months of putting it off, agency workers who have worked for more than 12 weeks now receive the same amount of pay as permanent staff, in line with a new EU law. Unfortunately, perhaps pre-empting these developments, in summer a new grade of workers was created and all workers taken on permanently are employed on a new contract with inferior terms and conditions.

Stansted strike called off

April 3, 2012 Leave a comment

GMB have called off their easter strike concerning Swissport baggage handlers at Stansted airport following ‘talks’.

Swissport baggage handlers at Stansted vote for Easter strike

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

From Union News.

Baggage handlers at Stansted Airport have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over Easter.

The GMB members working for Swissport will lose an estimated £1,000 each due to shift changes and say they will strike unless the company reconsiders the proposed changes.

The outcome of the ballot has been notified to Swissport. GMB has asked the company to reconsider the proposed pay cuts. If the company refuses and there is no progress in the dispute strike action will take place over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Notice of strike action will need to be served soon.

Swissport imposed a change to shifts patterns which GMB estimates will cost each of the GMB members up to £1,000 a year. The changes will also require that the baggage handlers travel to work an additional 13 times a years with all the additional transport and childcare costs.

GMB organiser Gary Pearce said: “GMB members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and for action short of a strike. Up to now the company has been intent on imposing these changes without agreement and this is completely unacceptable as this vote shows.

“GMB has offered several alternative shift patterns and working arrangements but the company refuses to listen so far. I have notified Swissport of the ballot result and I have asked them for more talks to try to avert action over these pay cuts.

“Swissport claim they have lost work on the Ryanair contact at the airport. GMB baggage handlers have seen no evidence of this. Swissport also claim that they are losing money on the contract. GMB has asked to see the evidence to confirm this but Swissport have refused to comply leading members to question if what they are being told is true.

“GMB members consider that Swissport is attempting to make savings at their expense and they are not willing to agree to this. Unless there is urgent talks and a settlement this vote for action this will result in disruption over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. The travelling public need to be aware that it has been this aggressive move by Swissport to cut our members pay at a time of high inflation that has led to this strike vote. If the strike goes ahead Swissport is entirely to blame for the disruption.”

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said: “Ryanair doesn’t expect any disruption to its flights to/from London Stansted over the Easter weekend because in the unlikely event of strike action by airport baggage handlers Ryanair will operate its flights with carry-on baggage only, thereby ensuring that Ryanair passengers are not held to ransom by greedy unions.”

GMB head for courts in Servisair John Lennon Airport baggage handler dispute

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

From Liverpool Daily Post.

Liverpool Daily Post

GMB UNION bosses today said they would be heading for the courts in the bitter Servisair redundancy strike at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

It comes as baggage handling firm Servisair presses ahead with its intention to axe between 28-35 jobs in Speke.

The GMB union has to reluctantly end their industrial action today as they reach the end of the legally-enforced 12-week period.

The trade union said Runcorn-based Servisair had ignored attempts to find a resolution to the two-month dispute. The GMB will now head to the courts to obtain a “protective award” as the row deepens.

If a tribunal rules in the GMB’s favour, Servisair would have to stump up between 30-90 days pay for each of the 13 employees potentially left at the risk of redundancy.
Click here to find out more!

And, as relations sink to what the GMB describe as “an all-time low”, any future employment dispute would automatically lead to a full 12-week walk-out.

The union has conducted discontinuous action since November, picketing for two hours in a morning and afternoon, four days a week.

Termination letters have been handed out while some staff at Speke are set to begin contracts downgraded from 42 hours to part-time 32-hour contracts.

Some Servisair employees have chosen to take voluntary redundancy following anger over “partial performance”.

That dispute occurred as management stopped any payment to a striker if they walked out for two hours on a shift.

Servisair argued that the cost of hiring cover workers, financing their meals and accommodation, made allowing picketing employees back on shift not viable. Unlawful deduction grievances have been registered by the GMB, but both parties insist their legal position on this issue remains strong.

Regional organiser Eddie Parker told the ECHO: “As management won’t recognise the need for proper consultation, we will remain out for the full 12 weeks in future disputes.

“We have asked to be provided with financial information from Servisair to back up the redundancies which has been ignored. If shared, that would remain confidential.

“The fact remains, Servisair made a big profit last year and Liverpool is one of the more efficient sites.

“It has been pleasing that members have stood shoulder to shoulder with those made redundant. It shows the principles of the trade union movement are alive and kicking in Liverpool.

“It’s very rare when people will take a financial hit, when they don’t have to, to support their colleagues.”

Asked to explain their current stance, Servisair said they did not wish to comment.

Negotiations between management and GMB have proved difficult with little sign of headway on either side despite the intervention from arbitrators ACAS.

Management have stressed the jobs cuts would result in a more multi-skilled workforce, but the union have accused the company of ‘blatant profit-making.’

GMB said relations between Servisair management and their members was now ‘dire’ with an absence of any goodwill.

Mr Parker added: “Our members will be professional and do their job, but in all jobs people do things that’s not expected of them, that’s what a good working relationship is about.

“But that’s now gone.”

Staring at another noble defeat? Or an opportunity for a real workers’ victory?

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Apologies for the nature of this post but I feel the need to think out loud.

I read on the Liverpool Echo website today that the GMB shall be calling off their members’ strike action at the end of this month, as after this 12 week period any people taking part in strike action can legally be sacked by Servisair for taking part in ‘unofficial action’. At first this made me feel how the laws are unfairly weighted in favour of the bosses and against the workers. Then, I thought about all the successful instances of workers in the UK taking unofficial action that I had read about. Such as the hundreds of electricians who took unofficial action on the 7th of December. They nationally coordinated this day of action in response to their union calling off an official strike that had 81% of members voting for action, after Balfour Beatty claimed 25 office workers who were Unite members were not balloted.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the pictures plastered in the Servisair buildings at JLA

I also thought about the politics of Left-Communists and the ICC’s pamphlet ‘Unions Against the Working Class’ and if it would be right to state that this shows the bankruptcy of the union framework.
I thought that if I was heavily under the influence of the ICC I might say something like ‘Against GMB bureaucrats! Fight union sabotage!’. Although it is true that a problem with unions is that the legal hoops they have to jump through serves to hamstring their actions and demoralise workers, if I turned up to a picket line with a leaflet with this headline the workers would not be very happy! Workers on strike, for all their misgivings of it, do identify with their union and such an approach would probably demoralise them (if I was taken seriously at all). However, only the most dysfunctional creep takes an interest in politics to make friends – the real reason I feel I could not take this approach is that I know nothing of the real situation on the ground. Not only do I not work there but the dispute has been overshadowed by both the national electricians and public sector pensions disputes, meaning that there has been next to no coverage in the left wing press. This means the key factor is unknown, is there a real will amongst the workers to fight and win?
It could be possible for the workers to defeat the bosses in January if they were able to set up mass pickets, preventing scabs from getting to work (watch this video of a mass picket of London fire fighters from November 2010, part of an official strike). Successful mass pickets would cost Servisair much money and important prestige and could see them back down.

Although I can only speculate from afar, evidence would suggest that there is a will to win. The workers themselves know that they can beat the bosses, management first tried to push through redundancies in the summer of 2009, they were met with a two week all out strike and backed down after fire service workers at the airport prepared to ballot for strike action in their defence. Furthermore, despite taking place in the run up to the Christmas period, ballot results in the highly unionised workplace were strong, with 85% voting to strike and 95% voting for action short of a strike. Attempts to ‘lock out’ strikers and confiscate security passes will have only served to heighten tensions.

I mentioned in a previous post that this is part of a (inter?)national move by all ground handling firms to casualise the industry. Baggage handlers are traditionally seen as militant workers and due to their strategic position have received relatively high wages for what is classed as unskilled work. The capitalist class is using the mass unemployment created by the economic crisis to force out full time workers and replace them with a larger, casualised, agency work force, working less hours and with no ‘right’ to strike. A defeat for the Liverpool baggage handlers would not only be a defeat for all those in the industry, but for the working class as a whole.

If the GMB regional organiser is to be believed when he reports “Our members have made a statement and they are more solid now than before. I attended eight picket lines and the strength was evident.” then why don’t they go for it? They have nothing to lose but their chains!