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Airport workers in many countries unite for justice and safety tomorrow

May 31, 2016

Actions will be taking place at major international airports in the following countries, with more confirming later today: Argentina, one airport; Australia, four airports; Brazil, one airport; Germany, nine airports; Ireland, one airport; South Korea, one airport; Sweden, one airport; the Netherlands, one airport, the USA, 12 airports.

Airport workers will unite across borders tomorrow, 1 June, to deliver the message that while airlines and airports are getting richer their workers are being paid less, worked more, and having their job security torn away. Workers will be flying banners and leafleting in over 30 airports around the world to deliver their message – supported by a new research report – to the public and to the members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose AGM begins tomorrow.

The research (attached and at 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 report is being released by a new union group called Airports United, which is determined to secure economic justice and job security for those helping build the industry’s success. Photos from the events will be posted at You are invited to use them.

International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Steve Cotton applauded the new group. He stated: “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.

“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.”

Mr Cotton concluded: “This new emerging network 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.”

Following the events tomorrow, there will also be a press conference the next day, Thursday 2 June, at the IATA AGM in Dublin, Ireland. Airport workers in work clothes from Ireland and around the world will leaflet attendees, and a press conference will be held to explain the research and Airports United’s mission.

Airports United brings together aviation workers’ unions from Australia, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the USA. The unions are the: FNV, SEIU, Swedish Transport Workers’ Union, TWU, UNITE HERE, and ver.di. Airports United is supported by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Uni Global Union.

The ITF is an international federation of some 700 trade unions in 147 countries worldwide, representing nearly 4.8 million transport workers, including over 650 thousand aviation workers. Uni Global Union represents 20 million workers from over 150 countries in the skills and services sectors.

The global airline industry is in excellent financial health. Record profits of $36.3 billion are expected in 2016, and passenger growth is robust at 6.9%. Despite their strong financial performance, airlines have created a race to the bottom that is placing airport workers – and airport safety and service quality – under immense pressure.

Airport workers* now face a working environment marked by stress, irregular working patterns and wage levels that are often insufficient to meet their basic living costs.

Airport staff numbers have been repeatedly reduced, leading to an intensification of work. For example, at Hamburg Airport in Germany, there were 531 workers per million passengers in 2006; by 2011 this figure had been reduced to 466 workers per million passengers.

Workers have also faced a steady decline in wages. A new normal has emerged in which airlines have subcontracted airport work to new subsidiaries or agencies with markedly inferior terms and conditions. In Australia, Qantas fired 5000 workers and replaced them with 9000 part-time workers employed through its subsidiaries. In the US, wages for airport workers fell by 19% in real terms between 1991 and 2001. As a result, workers are often unable to afford basic necessities, even health insurance.

The rapid decline in the quality of jobs has led to high turnover, with potentially adverse consequences for the safety and security of airports. In 2014, a memo written by airport staff at SeaTac Airport in the US expressed concern about the large number of inexperienced staff whose rate of safety and security violation was nearly twice that of more experienced colleagues. In Australia there has also been concern over how high turnover leads to a disproportionate number of workers on temporary security badges and without proper training.

Well-trained airport workers are vital to passenger safety and wellbeing. They are the first to respond in an emergency, they provide vital assistance in bringing passengers to safe areas of the airport, and are critical to making sure that the most vulnerable, including elderly and disabled passengers, are always looked after. The decline in standards is easily preventable. Cost cutting is driving this race to the bottom, but airlines have the power to stop it and put in place a sustainable employment model, one that is capable of retaining a skilled and experienced workforce. It is time for airlines to redress this serious problem at the heart of the global aviation industry.

Airport workers in many countries unite for justice and safety tomorrow

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