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Labor unrest spreads across Europe amid cost of living crisis

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
RMT workers are walking out in a dispute over pay and jobs. (Photo by Getty Images)

Strikes in Europe's transport sector have disrupted air flights and train schedules as transportation companies struggle to cope with rising demand at the start of the peak summer travel season after the COVID restrictions were lifted.

A strike by staff members at Irish airline Ryanair and Brussels Airlines over pay and working conditions forced the cancellation of a number of flights on Saturday.

The workers' strike also disrupted flight schedules in Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and Belgium.

Since Friday, low-budget airline Ryanair has been forced to cancel 127 flights, an airport spokeswoman told AFP on Saturday.

The walkout forced the cancellation of two flights between Lisbon and Brussels.

The airports at Bordeaux and Marseille said nine and 12 flights respectively would be cancelled on Sunday.

Ryanair flights were also cancelled in France. Damien Mourgues of the SNPNC union said 36 out of 80 flights had been cancelled because of a walk-out by air stewards.

In Belgium, the walkout meant that only 41 percent of Ryanair flights left Charleroi airport near Brussels on Saturday.

The situation in Belgium was further complicated by a three-day strike by Brussels Airlines staff ending on Saturday. The strike has forced the carrier, which is owned by German giant Lufthansa, to cancel about 300 out of 500 flights since

Adding to Europe's traveling problems, Austria Airlines said on Saturday it had had to cancel 52 out of 360 scheduled flights.

USO transport union in Spain said 75 flights from six different cities had been cancelled, noting that the striking staff had been replaced by workers brought in from Morocco, which it cited as a violation on Thursday.

Unions have called for EasyJet cabin crew based in Spain to strike for nine days in July as part of a dispute over pay.

The Swiss airline has already had to cancel thousands of flights this summer because of staff shortages at airports.

Staff shortage

The aviation sector is still struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic which led to staff-cuts as international travel was put on hold.

However, a rise in the number of COVID infections reported by Austria Airlines staff on Saturday led to the cancellation of its flights.

"Our crew members are sick, cases of infection are rising," an Austria Airlines spokeswoman told AFP.

Faced with staff shortages, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was also forced to announce earlier this month that it would be limiting traveler numbers this summer and cancelling flights.

The shortages have already caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled, while huge queues have angered travelers.

In the UK, the railway system once again came to a halt on Saturday. 

Over the week, tens of thousands of workers have walked in Britain's biggest rail strike in 30 years, with millions of passengers facing days of chaos as both the unions and government have stuck to their guns in a row over pay.

The British transport union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), threatened to continue the industrial action until managers address the workers' grievances, and meet their salary demands.

Despite the ongoing negotiations between representatives from the management and staff, media predicted the strikes to continue.

They attributed further industrial action to the rapidly rising inflation rates exacerbated by sluggish economic growth, saying this combo will likely lead to more workers' strikes across the European continent in the summer ahead.

Unions have said the rail strikes could mark the start of a "summer of discontent" with teachers, medics, waste disposal workers and even barristers heading for industrial action as inflation pushes 10%.

Inflation has soared across Europe on the back of a major rise in energy costs and Britain is not alone in facing strikes.


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