CAIRO – Dozens of airplane flights leaving Cairo were delayed Saturday because of a work slowdown by the baggage handlers of Egypt's national carrier, officials said. It was the second day in a row in which labor unrest at the country's main airport disrupted travel.
Egypt has seen a wave of strikes and work stoppages since the 2011 uprising that overthrow longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. State-run enterprises have been particularly hard hit, with workers complaining of stagnant salaries, corruption and bad work conditions.
One EgyptAir handler said that the strikers appealed to the national carrier's management before taking action to raise salaries and hire more employees, but to no avail.
"We have made these demands more than once and asked to meet with officials," the handler said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared he would be singled out for reprimand. "No one listened."
The slowdown caused renewed chaos at Cairo airport and caused delays for at least 30 flights, officials from EgyptAir said.
The workers met with Egypt's Minister of Civil Aviation, Mohammed Fouad Gadallah, and a legal adviser to the Egyptian president Saturday evening, according to airport officials.
The airport officials said the minister and presidential adviser heard the workers' demands, but not before passengers had to wait more than two hours for their bags due to the delay caused by the strike. The minister and presidential adviser promised the workers that their demands would be met if they return to work quickly.
The two also met with passengers to explain to them the reason for the baggage delay, airport officials said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
The previous day, flight attendants observed a 12-hour strike demanding improved working conditions. More than 20 flights were cancelled.
The baggage handlers appeared to be encouraged by the response of authorities to the demands of the flight attendants. The attendants agreed to suspend their strike until Sunday as they negotiate more than 20 demands including restructuring EgyptAir's holding company to include a separate unit for cabin crews and to increase staffing.
About 150 handlers participated in the slowdown Saturday. EgyptAir turned to airport cleaners to meet a backlog of luggage.
Company officials said their budget is under strain after major losses since the last year's uprising, which briefly disrupted travel to Egypt. A year of political turmoil also reduced tourism, cutting into EgyptAir's revenues.