Scenes from Lisbon airport last weekend when over 600 flights had to be cancelled

Portugal’s airport baggage-handling chaos: ANA to revoke Groundforce licence

After the nightmare weekend in which 650 flights (the majority in and out of Lisbon) were cancelled due to a strike by baggage handlers employed by Groundforce, ANA airports authority has threatened to revoke the company’s licence, prohibiting it from operating in Faro and Madeira airports.

This unthinkable shambles however is nowhere near any kind of satisfactory ending.

Thousands of people have been inconvenienced – their flights only slowly coming back on track, their suitcases still ‘held’ in many cases, containing ‘vital medication and other essentials’ that they need to get at.

Infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos is being ‘summoned to parliament’ to explain the fracas – which he insists is all down to the appalling mismanagement of Groundforce.

Groundforce claims TAP owes it €12 million. TAP’s response is that this is nonsense.

ANA claims Groundforce owes it €13 million.

Groundforce syndicates say their workers need back pay and holiday subsidies – and President Marcelo rightly says the whole affair is ‘prejudicing the country’.

The worst of the confusion is that the syndicates that downed tools last weekend have been threatening to do the same again, on July 31 to August 2. This now looks unlikely.

Explaining the background to this story on SIC television news today, commentator and writer José Gomes Ferreira lays the blame on “indescribable Portuguese capitalism”.

Alfredo Casimiro, the man whose company (Pasogal) purchased Groundforce in the troika era did so with a convoluted ‘management arrangement’.

Right from the start Groundforce started owing Pasogal “quite a lot of money” for ‘management’.

TAP is Groundforce’s other shareholder – and now it belongs to the State (which now holds 72.5% of TAP shares).

The bottom line is that Groundforce clearly never kept up with what it owed Pasogal, in turn Pasogal didn’t honour its ‘obligations’ – and the workers have been the ones ‘to pay’ – hence their decision after months of uncertainty and strife to strike for salaries that are being held up on the basis that ‘there is no money to pay them with’.

President Marcelo has described himself “concerned by the obstinacy of Groundforce, particularly some of those responsible”.

With today’s decision by ANA, Groundforce’s value and relevance has simply slipped further into the mire of accusations and counter-accusations, with very little else seemingly achieved.

TAP meantime has filed for the insolvency of Groundforce, which Mr Casimiro and his workforce disagree with – their argument being if TAP paid what it owed, Groundforce would not be insolvent.

As this text went online, Infrastructures Minister Pedro Nuno Santos was telling parliament that he believes a solution is in sight. It rests on Montepio Bank being able to sell Alfredo Casimiro’s shares.

According to Expresso, Montepio already has possession of Mr Casimiro’s shareholding as he owes the bank €7 million…

Bottom line: “The State or TAP will resolve the problem if a private investor is not found”. And meantime he guarantees Groundforce workers will get their paychecks for July.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com