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LATEST: Flights cancelled at Geneva airport as strike extended into Saturday

The Local Switzerland
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LATEST: Flights cancelled at Geneva airport as strike extended into Saturday
It's rare but it does happen - workers on strike stand at Geneva's international airport on June 30th, 2023. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Workers at Geneva airport voted to prolong Friday's four-hour strike until the end of Saturday. The move came after dozens of flights were cancelled at the international airport at the start of the busy summer travel season.

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A strike paralysed Geneva airport on Friday morning, grounding flights for two days at Switzerland's second-busiest airport at the start of the busy summer travel season.

Airport employees initially walked off the job from 6:00-10:00 am, forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights.

Takeoffs and landings resumed some four hours later as personnel who guide planes on the tarmac returned to work, though unionised workers voted to
remain on strike until Saturday.

"Traffic has resumed but it will be slower than usual," Geneva airport spokesman Ignace Jeannerat told AFP.

But shortly before the strike was due to end, staff gathered outside the terminal voted to prolong the walkout until the end of Saturday.

The strike over a new wage policy was originally called to last from 6 am -10 am (0400 GMT and 0800 GMT) on Friday and had already forced the cancellation of dozens of flights.

When the news of the extension was reported around 10 am, the airport's website went down.

Meanwhile, the airport tweeted that even though the strike is to continue into Saturday, some long-haul flights have landed.

 

Earlier on Friday the airport announced the 64 flights had been grounded due to the industrial action.

An airport spokesman said that some 8,000 passengers were estimated to be affected by the cancellations at Switzerland's second airport, a key hub for the EasyJet budget carrier.

Numerous international flights from North America and the Middle East were affected.

Many police and security staff were posted in front of the terminal and only passengers for flights scheduled for after the strike period were being allowed inside.

About 50 striking workers and trade unionists were protesting outside the terminal's main entrance.

The strike was called after the airport's board approved on Thursday a new wage policy contested by staff.

Passengers faced huge queues on Friday as well as reports of misplaced luggage and delays.

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It is the first-ever strike by staff directly employed by the airport, as opposed to subcontractors, and according to Swiss airline includes air traffic
controllers as well as those which guide planes along the tarmac.

"In Switzerland strikes are very rare" as they may be called only after a process of consultations, said Claire Pellegrin, head of the airport staff commission.

"It's the last option that we never thought we'd get to," she added.

'We are going to become like France'

A long queue of stranded passengers formed in front of and inside the airport.

Travellers arrive at Geneva's international airport during the strike. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

It was the first-ever strike by staff directly employed by the airport, as opposed to subcontractors, and according to Swiss airline includes air traffic controllers as well as those which guide planes along the tarmac.

A trade unionist said it was difficult to understand how they had arrived at the impasse.

"The airport is a profitable business which enjoys a monopoly and is attacking the conditions of its staff," said Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Confederation (USS), who turned out to support the strikers.

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Meanwhile, irritation at the strike was evident on social media.

Many were not sympathetic, pointing out that the airport should hire retired people or those collecting unemployment to replace the strikers.

Also, as the airport lies on the border with France, and the vast majority of employees are cross-border workers, some remarks are pointing out this fact.

"A shame Geneva is really no longer a Swiss airport," one said, while another remarked that "we are going to become the new France... great."

Yet another person went even further: "And what country are these strikers from? That's what happens when only cross- border workers are hired! Congratulations to Geneva for all these work permits."

While this jab may be unfair, as cross-border commuters in general are a boost to Geneva's economy, the fact is that strikes are a relatively rare phenomenon in Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: Why does Switzerland see very few strikes compared to France or Germany

Nearly 6.8 million passengers used the airport between January and May, according to official statistics.

The aviation industry has been keen to avoid a repeat of the chaos seen at European airports last year.

The sector struggled to cope with a surge in travel as it was severely understaffed after laying off thousands during the Covid pandemic.

 

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