After a workers’ strike left passengers facing severe delays and cancelled flights at Schiphol over the weekend, various unions have blamed the chaotic scenes at the Netherlands’ largest airport on KLM management: “[they’re] putting no energy into becoming more attractive as an employer.” 

Schiphol prepared for meivakantie and busiest weekend of the year

With Dutch schools breaking up for the May holiday on Friday, Schiphol Airport was bracing for what was set to be its busiest weekend since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. In the lead up to the weekend, the Dutch airport had already warned travellers to prepare for large crowds and long queues throughout the meivakantie: “Due to the increasing numbers of travellers and the shortage of staff, travellers have to prepare for longer than usual waiting times.”

Spokesperson Dennis Muller explained that the airport was preparing to welcome a similar number of travellers as was typical pre-pandemic. Between April 23 and May 8, an average of 174.000 people are expected at Schiphol each day, and “on the really busy days, such as weekends, we may go towards 200.000 travellers,” Muller said.

KLM strike left travellers stranded and flights delayed

But things didn’t quite go to plan, as a strike by KLM baggage handlers left flights cancelled and thousands of travellers disappointed. At 6am on Saturday morning, around 150 ground staff employees staged a walkout, meaning baggage on various flights could not be loaded or unloaded.

A few hours later, Schiphol called on all passengers booked on flights before 3pm to avoid travelling to the airport at all, as staff attempted to make up for the delays caused by the strikes. “This is an extreme and very annoying measure that Schiphol has to take with a view to safety,” the airport said in a statement on its website. 

The KLM strike was triggered by the news that some of the employees’ work would soon be outsourced to Viggo, an external baggage handling company. According to the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV), this news was “the last straw” for workers, who were already complaining about low salaries and flexible contracts and were now becoming increasingly worried that they could soon lose their jobs.

Dutch unions blame KLM management for disruption

The FNV has placed the blame for the strike and the chaos it caused on KLM management, telling De Telegraaf that management is missing its “social antenna.” Other unions echoed this sentiment, with Michiel Wallaard from CNV Vakmensen saying “management is putting no energy into becoming more attractive as an employer again. They don’t know how to create space to improve things [for workers].”

While the strike was brought to an end after only a few hours, FNV has reported that KLM is yet to reach an agreement with employees. Various travel organisations warned De Telegraaf that, if these issues and staff shortages within KLM are not resolved quickly, this could lead to further drama and disruption at Schiphol, specifically over the summer.

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