Analysis-Europe’s summer of discontent reveals travel sector labour crisis -Breaking
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport employees gather in front of terminal 2E to protest low wages at Paris-Charles de Gaulle in Roissy (near Paris), France, June 9, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Toby Sterling and Caroline Pailliez by Tim Hepher
AMSTERDAM/PARIS/DOHA – Karim Djeffal, a 21-year-old Air France service agent, decided to leave his position during the COVID-19 pandemic and start his own career-coaching consulting.
According to the 41-yearold, “If this does not work out, then I will not be returning to the aviation industry.” The shifts were split into two groups: some started at 4 AM, others at 2 PM. You could find it exhausting.
Djeffal gives a glimpse of the challenges faced by European airports as they try to recruit thousands to meet resurgent demand. This is also known as “revenge traveling”, which people use to compensate for their vacations that were lost due to the pandemic.
The Netherlands, France, Spain, and France have offered perks to employees who refer their friends, including raises in pay and bonus payments.
Leading operators already have identified thousands of opportunities across Europe. The industry claims that European aviation has suffered a loss of 600,000.
Yet the hiring blitz can’t come fast enough to erase the risk of cancelled flights and long waits for travellers even beyond the summer peak, analysts and industry officials say.
It is possible that the summer after the two-year-long pandemic vacuum in air travel could become the summer of collapse in high-volume and low-cost travel – at the very least, in Europe’s vast integrated market.
This spring, strikes and labor shortages caused havoc in London and Paris this spring.
Low-cost airline easyJet (LON) is cancelling hundreds more summer flights. New strikes are also brewing in France, Spain and France.
Industry leaders will gather in Qatar for a summit this week to discuss the theme of who’s responsible for the chaos that exists between governments and airlines.
James Halstead (Managing Partner at Aviation Strategy) stated that while there is much mud-slinging, everyone is responsible for not being able to cope with the rebound in demand.
According to the Air Transport Action Group, which represents the aviation industry, the sector has reported that it lost 2.3 Million jobs worldwide during the pandemic. Security and ground handling were the hardest affected.
Many workers don’t return to work quickly, either because they are lured by the gig economy or simply want to retire earlier.
Rico Luman, senior economist at ING said that “They have clearly got alternatives and can change jobs.”
Although he believes travel pressure will lessen after the summer, he warns of potential shortages as more older workers leave. And, most importantly, there aren’t many younger workers who can replace them.
He stated, “Even in a recession the labour market will still remain tight at minimum this year.”
One of the main factors that slow down the hiring process is the amount of time needed to secure security clearance. This can take as long as five months in France, for the most delicate jobs.
Marie Marivel is 56 and works at CDG as a security agent screening bags. She earns around 2,100 euros ($2,200 per month) post-tax.
According to her, staff have been overworked due to shortages. The aggressive behavior of stranded passengers has led to increased aggression. Low morale.
She says, “We have young people that come and go again after a day.” They tell us that we are earning cashiers wages because of our job, which entails so much responsibility.
Anne Rigail (chief executive, French Air France-KLM) stated that France has stabilized after the disruptions of May.
According to operator, Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and Orly airports where one union called for a strike July 2nd, still have 4,000 vacant positions.
In the Netherlands, unemployment is lower at 3.3%. Unfilled vacancies in this country are at an all-time high. KLM’s Schiphol hub saw hundreds of cancellations, and there were long lines.
Schiphol now offers a Summer Bonus of 5.25 Euros per Hour to 15,000 employees in Security, Baggage Handling, Transportation and Cleaning – an increase of 50% for workers on the minimum wage.
Joost van Doesburg, union FNV said that while it is indeed huge, “it still doesn’t suffice.”
Let’s face it, these six weeks are not a great advertisement to come work at the airport.
Last week, Schiphol in Amsterdam and London’s Gatwick announced plans to limit summer capacity. This will lead to more cancellations, as politicians, airlines and airports fight over the crisis.
Luis Felipe de Oliveira is the head of ACI global airports association. He told Reuters that airports have been unfairly blamed, and that airlines need to work harder in order to reduce queues and increase costs.
Willie Walsh is the head of International Air Transport Association. This group represents the international airline industry and meets in Qatar. He dismissed any talk of an imminent collapse in travel as “hysteria”.
Walsh, in turn, blames some of the disruption to the actions of “idiot politician” in Britain. There are frequent changes in COVID policy that discourage hiring.
Expect a relative increase in growth, tempered by inflation concerns at the IATA meeting on June 19-21.
These gatherings are a positive representation of globalization, connecting goods and people at more affordable fares for many years.
However, the European labour crisis has made it more vulnerable to the weak labour force. The resulting increase in costs is likely to drive fares up and put pressure on restructuring.
Employers in Germany say that many of their ground employees have joined Amazon (NASDAQ):
Thomas Richter, head of ABL (German ground-handling employer’s association), stated that it is easier to pack a hairdryer or computer into a box than to lug a suitcase weighing 50 pounds around in an airplane’s fuselage.
Analysts believe that the labor shortage may increase costs after the summer. But it is still too early to determine if the industry should abandon the model of increasing volumes and cutting costs, which created new routes while keeping fares low.
Some departing workers see Europe’s stifling summer as a wakeup call for bosses and passengers.
A former British Airways cabin crewmember, now 58, said that “I think the very low flying…I don’t know how they could really keep up with that.” He has since been laid off.