Airport chaos ahead

Inspectors from the Foreigners and Frontiers Service (SEF) are advising the government to install giant screens at Portuguese airports during the Euro 2004 tournament, in order to show matches. The move is designed to minimise potential protests from thousands of football fans coming to watch games during a planned SEF strike and ‘go slow’ at airports. The SEF action could mean that supporters will have to wait for hours in order to enter the country. SEF Inspectors are taking industrial action because they claim they are owed overtime back pay (an amount that already tops 2.5 million euros). Although the SEF union has guaranteed a minimum service, a much smaller contingent of staff than usual will be operating at the country’s airports.

At Faro airport for example, in place of the usual 10 inspectors, the SEF will only have four staff to check passing travellers. And the airport estimates that there will be thousands passing through Faro on June 12 (one of the planned strike days) – including 12 planeloads of passengers from Russia and 100 from England.

“I am certain that many people will be unable to arrive at the stadium in time for the match,” said the president of the SEF union, Gonçalo Rodrigues.

The SEF strike was forecast to begin this Thursday (May 13) and run until Friday, recommencing after May 27 and 28. Then there are more strikes planned for June 11, 12, 16 and 17. It will involve inspectors from other national airports – in Lisbon there will be six officers on duty, as opposed to the normal 20, and at Porto Airport, the normal contingent of 13 will be reduced to four.

The paralysis is expected to cause confusion and overcrowding owing to the number of arrivals expected at that time for the Rock in Rio-Lisboa music festival – which runs from May 28 to June 6 – and then the big crowd-puller, Euro 2004, being played between June 12 and July 4.

While the SEF is guaranteeing that there will be a minimum service at airports, in the rest of the country all normal procedure will be halted. There will be no criminal investigations or inspections of illegal immigrants and their activities during the strike period. Rodrigues laments the need for the strike, but says that the SEF will only cancel the action if the government pays the money that is owed.

In addition to the industrial action planned at airports, SEF staff escorting expelled foreigners have begun a strike. “This action has 100 per cent solidarity,” said Rodrigues.