Airport groundhandling: MEPs add safeguards for service quality and workers 

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New rules to make groundhandling services at large EU airports more competitive were narrowly approved in a Transport and Tourism Committee vote on Tuesday. MEPs inserted service quality standards and staff provisions to prevent any deterioration of working conditions. Parliament will have the final say in a plenary vote in April.

The committee agreed to boost competition for restricted, airside services by requiring at least three groundhandling companies (up from two today) in airports handling at least 15 million passengers and/or 200,000 tonnes of freight per year. These thresholds had been set at 5 million passengers and 100,000 tonnes of freight in the Commission’s initial proposal.

“I pushed for more liberalisation, but compromises had to be made”, said rapporteur Artur Zasada (EPP, PL) after the close vote (19 in favour, 17 against, 8 abstentions). “We added very good social provisions, minimum quality standards and one common procedure for applicants”, he pointed out.

Improving efficiency and service quality

MEPs inserted common criteria for minimum quality standards to apply to operational performance, staff training, adequate equipment, information and assistance to passengers, safety, security and compliance with environmental requirements. Exact figures, requirements and thresholds are to be set by the each airport and clearly indicated in the tender documents for awarding groundhandling concessions, says the committee text.

Rules allowing airport service integrators and air transport companies to supply groundhandling services would become more flexible, but all groundhandlers – including subcontractors - would have to meet the operational minimum quality standards defined by each airport and comply with appropriate socal and working conditions, so as to ensure fair competition. Service providers who fail to meet these standards could incur penalties and even be prohibited from providing further services.

Prevent social dumping, limit subcontracting

Handling companies as well as their subcontractors must “apply the relevant representative collective agreements and national laws of the concerned Member State”, says the adopted compromise text. They should also “submit a detailed list of all the specific tasks that are – or may be - subject to sub-contracting and which are not linked to the main activity”, MEPs said.

Separate accounts to avoid cross-financing

According to the amended text, separating the accounts of airports and groundhandling operators would suffice to guarantee financial transparency and prevent distortions of competition. The Commission had proposed a legal separation of these entities,

In the chair: Brian Simpson (S&D, UK)