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Two-hour waits at security leave Barcelona airport passengers fuming

With industrial action planned by employees, suspicions abound of a covert strike already underway

Snaking lines at security checkpoints in Barcelona's El Prat airport on Thursday.
Snaking lines at security checkpoints in Barcelona's El Prat airport on Thursday.

It’s been four days now and the waiting time is getting longer and longer. At Terminal 1 in Barcelona’s El Prat airport – and also in T2, albeit to a lesser extent – the time passengers were spending in lines for security checks was coming in at more than two hours on Thursday morning. The “fast-track” lane, meant for people with children or with mobility problems, was also suffering severe delays, with waits of around 90 minutes.

The problems are due to a labor dispute between employees and the Eulen services company

The problems are due to a labor dispute between employees and the Eulen services company, which is in charge of staffing the airport’s metal detectors – the first security filter that passengers must pass through before they can catch their plane.

The staff claim that the problems are not due to a “go-slow strike” but rather that they are following to the letter the security protocols at times of a terrorist alert, which stipulate that they can spend up to 10 minutes with each passenger.

The strike works committee for the employees announced this week that from August onward, they would be striking at four different times of day: from 5.30-6.30am, 10.30-11.30am, 4.30-5.30pm and 6.30-7.30pm.

Lines to clear security at El Prat this Tuesday.
Lines to clear security at El Prat this Tuesday.

But even without official strike action the long lines this week have been leaving passengers angry and exasperated. On Wednesday, the lines were taking 45 minutes to get through. Óscar Pérez had to get to the airport more than three hours before his flight to Kuala Lumpur to ensure he would make it. “And we are in the fast-track line,” he explained. Another passenger, Cristina Alemany, had to catch a flight for work reasons and ended up missing it. “This is like something from the Third World and it’s outrageous,” she said. “And it’s not like there’s a lot of people from [Spanish airports authority] AENA telling us what’s going on.”

The lines on Thursday morning were taking more than double the usual time, although AENA did put tapes in place to keep the flow of passengers moving and avoid moments of tension, in particular when passengers tried to jump the line.

Even without official strike action the long lines this week have been leaving passengers angry and exasperated

The day began with waits of 60 minutes between 5.30am and 6.30am, which coincides with the first period that the Eulen employees have established for the strikes they have announced from August 4 onward. The fact that these times coincide with the established strike periods, combined with the fact that these long waits began after the announcement of indefinite industrial action, have reinforced suspicions that the problems seen this week are the result of a covert strike.

The origin of the conflict between airport workers and the company, according to the firm’s biggest union, ADN Sindical, is related to a lack of personnel, training and the non-payment of some of the bonuses that employees are supposed to receive for working at El Prat. Workers claim that the root of all of the problems lies with the tender of the contract by AENA, which was fixed in June 2016 for two years for €23.1 million, when it was originally supposed to come in at €23.6 million. The unions subsequently filed a complaint with the regional government.

“Eulen already knew that it wasn’t going to be able to pay the bonuses […],” the union explained. The extra payment for working on the security scanners is €117 a month, which is supposed to be added to a monthly wage of €1,122.

Eulen already knew that it wasn’t going to be able to pay the bonuses

ADN Sindical union

According to the UGT labor union, there are nearly 250 Eulen employees working at the airport, and when all security channels are open, 40 active workers are needed. “As there is no more staff, employees are being asked to stay for extra hours, and can do days of up to 16 hours,” said Alberto Cortado, from UGT. The workers are also calling for relief so that they can visit the bathroom and can take breaks.

The Eulen staff are calling for negotiations with their own company as well as with representatives from AENA. The public airports operator explains that, until now, it has never had to sit down and negotiate between a private company and its workers. The workforce and Eulen, which has refused to make a statement about the conflict, will be meeting again on Friday with regional government mediators. For its part, the strike committee has already warned that it will not negotiate if AENA – whom it holds ultimately responsible for the situation – does not sit down at the table.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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