Manchester Airport baggage handlers have said they are ‘under more stress than ever’. Passengers have been faced with delays and queues due to ‘unexpected’ demand over the last few weeks.
Bosses last month warned passengers could face queues for ‘several weeks’ after admitting they are struggling with staff shortages. Manchester Airports Group (MAG) said they have also struggled with the easing of restrictions as well as a large number of bags being rejected at security. But some staff operating at the airport, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they feel the workplace is ‘absolute carnage’.
“We just can’t handle the workload,” one employee, who works in the airport but would not reveal their role, said. “It’s very under-staffed at the moment, things are diabolical. The entire work environment is shocking. A lot of people were furloughed and made redundant.
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“All the companies in the airport just got rid of far too many staff, everyone panicked during the pandemic. Now everything is picking up again, we can’t just get the staff back. It’s absolute carnage right now.”
They added that they have seen first hand how bosses are struggling to recruit new staff. They said a number of long-standing employees are handing their notices in, while some new recruits are leaving after not even completing a day. “We’re not getting many new staff in,” they explained.
“People are coming in, doing the classroom training and when they go to do the training at the Airport, they’re just not coming back the day after – that’s how bad it is. As soon as they see what’s going on, they don’t like it and turn their back on it. Loads of people have done the first day and then just not returned. Some people haven’t even fulfilled an entire day because they’ve seen how bad it is.”
Another staff member, working as a baggage handler for one of the airport’s operators, said staff have complained of being frightened of passengers due to the long waits they are having to endure. “I totally get why they’re frustrated,” they say. “But it’s not our fault. “We’re doing the best we can with what little we have left in the tank.
“Passengers have been waiting for so long and staff are scared to go out there because some people get really angry. There’s passengers who are banging and kicking at the door while they’re waiting. It’s frightening. We have had to call the police or senior management so many times for them to come out and assist us.”
The staff member said that agency staff are also being roped in to help. “It’s at a stage where we’re getting a support agency in to help us,” they added. “Even then, it’s not enough.”
They went on to speak of some instances where baggage carousels have been unmanned due to low staff levels, and also occasions where baggage has been placed on the wrong belt or damaged.
In some instances this month, staff have been asked to volunteer their spare time to help assist with demand. One email sent to employees, titled ‘volunteer support on Friday 18th March’, asked staff working in non-operational roles to offer to be redeployed to the check-in area to help manage queues and passenger queries.
An airport staff member told the MEN: “We never used to get emails like that before. It’s something that’s become more of a daily thing now. It just shows that what we have at the moment just isn’t manageable.”
Emails asking security staff to ‘revert, defer or sell back holidays’ in order to remain staff levels have also been sent. One email, sent this week, asked security employees to ‘voluntarily defer some or all of their approved booked leave during April, May and June’. Those who respond can receive two days holiday back per day deferrer, or be paid time and a half.
Employees said they fear that staffing levels are going to continue to get worse until enough new recruits can be drafted in. They say they are already dreading intake of passengers during the Easter and Summer holidays.
“Staff are so exhausted,” they add. “It’s just going to get worse over the summer at this rate. We’ve tried to raise concerns but it’s like going in one ear and out the other. There’s only so much we can do. We’re under more stress now than we have ever been.”
They added: “This used to be a great place to work. Staff morale was fantastic, we all enjoyed spending time together outside of work but nowadays, everyone is just so tired that nobody wants to do anything anymore. It was an exciting place to be, but it feels like the staff have just given up now.”
Karen Smart, managing director of Manchester Airport, previously told the MEN: “We want to apologize to all our customers who have experienced disruption over the last couple of weeks. We recognize passengers are really looking forward to getting away, and long queues are clearly not what they want to see when traveling through our airport.”
Speaking about the staff’s concerns, Swissport, one of Manchester Airport’s operators, told the MEN: “We would like to apologize to passengers who’ve experienced delays in disembarking and baggage collection. With a number of unresolved technical and security issues being experienced by the airport, and with cases of COVID-19 rising again, we have experienced challenges in staffing and resource as we respond to knock-on delays.
“We understand the frustration of passengers and we are working hard, with our partners, to implement contingency measures to support our employees and improve capacity.”
Manchester Airport bosses also responded to the claims from staff. A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “We work closely with our colleague representatives and Trade Unions to provide the best possible environment for everyone working at Manchester Airport. We aim to respond quickly to reports of facilities – whether they are provided for our colleagues of those of our partner organizations – needing maintenance.
“In addition, we are currently in the process of consulting colleagues from across the operation on how we can improve the environment and facilities on offer. The safety of passengers and colleagues on our site is of paramount importance, and we will not tolerate any abusive or threatening behavior targeted towards people working at Manchester Airport.
“We strongly encourage colleagues to report any such behavior and this zero-tolerance approach is communicated regularly to passengers using the airport. We want to thank colleagues for their hard work and dedication as we face challenges recovering from the biggest crisis our industry has ever faced.” .”