A strike called for by the Union of Airport Handling Technicians (STHA) led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights in Portugal over the weekend. The strike began on Saturday with around 260 flights canceled, and then Sunday saw a further 327 flights canceled. Lisbon is the most several affected airport.

Strikes by Groundforce airports brought airports across Portugal to a standstill over the weekend. Photo: ANA Aeroportos de Portugal

The chaos in Portugal is due to the employees of ground-handling company Groundforce going on strike. According to the STHA union, which represents these workers, conditions have been “unsustainable” for several months. Specifically, the union called the strike regarding “the timely payment of wages and other pecuniary components.”

As a result of the strike, major airports, including Lisbon and Porto, canceled flights due to a lack of ground support. According to Aviation24.be, around 81% of ground staff didn’t show up for work at Lisbon airport yesterday. As well as causing the cancellation of many departures, flights to Portugal were also canceled due to chaos at the airports. Some passengers arriving in Portugal waited for several hours to get their bags.

The strike meant that even passengers who got flights had to wait hours for their bags. Photo: ANA Aeroportos de Portugal

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Groundforce and TAP at loggerheads

Other ground-handling companies were not on strike, meaning that some airlines were still able to operate flights. Those least affected by the current situation were the low-cost carriers operating out of Lisbon’s terminal 2. One of the most affected by the strikes is Portugal’s flag carrier TAP Air even though Groundforce is partially owned by the TAP Air Portugal Group.

According to Reuters, TAP offered to loan Groundforce the money needed to pay staff if it would help settle the dispute with unions and prevent strike action. However, the baggage-handling company turned the offer down. There is less than happy history between the two companies, with Groundforce claiming that TAP owes it approximately €12 million for services rendered, something which TAP denies. Groundforce says this debt is part of the reason staff haven’t received full payment.

Groundforce staff could continue to strike and are likely to refuse overtime and work short shifts. Photo: ANA Aeroportos de Portugal

Further action planned

Although employees are back at work today, some are still expecting minor disruption due to a backlog. ANA, the company that manages Portuguese airports, requested that anyone who had flights canceled should not go to Lisbon airport, the most affected airport, and instead “seek information through other channels, digital and telephone.”

As travel resumes over the coming months, further action could be even more disruptive. Reportedly, the union had planned further strikes on July 29th and August 2nd. Furthermore, workers may refuse to work overtime for the foreseeable future to protest staff shortages and lack of pay. The union also stated workers could protest by refusing to work the first and last hour of each shift. This partial action has the potential to cause massive disruption at many airports.

Earlier this year, Groundforce declared insolvency, reporting there were no solutions to its financial difficulties. In March 2021, TAP bought Groundforce equipment for €7 million ($8.4 million) to help it pay workers. However, this short-term solution is not enough. TAP air is also relying on substantial government loans to support operations during the pandemic.

What do you think of the situation in Portugal? If you experienced issues over the weekend due to the strike, we’d love to hear from you.

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