Portugal: Handling workers’ February wages unpaid

The Portuguese Transport Workers’ Union (STTAMP) said on Friday that TAP-owned airport handling company Groundforce is telling its 2,400 workers that February salaries will not be paid in the coming days.

“Regrettably, this situation was not communicated to the organisations representing the workers in advance, given such a serious scenario,” the union said in a statement, stressing that salaries are not expected to be paid in the next 15 days.

In the letter addressed to the workers and seen by Lusa, Groundforce’s chairman of the board, Alfredo Casimiro, said that the company could not pay February salaries without a bank loan under consideration.

“Transparently, and using some prudence, we foresee that this situation will only be resolved and unblocked in the next 15 days, so, with the details we have at the moment, only then will we be able to pay February’s salaries,” Alfredo Casimiro said.

The company chairman said that so far, Groundforce has managed to survive with TAP’s support, meeting its minimum obligations through advances on services and those to be provided in the future.

However, “TAP’s Board of Directors told it today [Thursday] that it was not possible to grant this aid, which we believe would be the last before contracting the bank loan with a state guarantee,” Alfredo Casimiro said in the letter.

In a statement, STTAMP recalled that Groundforce “is a TAP Group company in which the airline has a 49.9% stake, and so it is surprising that the airline, which is undergoing a state financial aid programme, should pass on its financial difficulties directly to a group company, by failing to pay the salaries of around 2,400 workers”.

It also stressed that unlike TAP, Groundforce had an operating profit on 31 December 2019, but its activity had been seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to STTAMP, the workers “do not accept that the payment of workers’ salaries may be held hostage to the business strategies of the shareholders, aggravated by the fact that neither TAP’s state shareholder nor the private shareholder has sought solutions to ensure Groundforce’s financial sustainability.”

The company, the union recalls, was forced at the beginning of the pandemic outbreak to cut hundreds of jobs of workers who had recently been hired.

The union said that Groundforce workers faced harsh pay cuts about a year ago, among other implemented measures to ensure the company’s financial balance and future sustainability.

“The situation of non-payment of February’s wages will have a huge social effect, with consequences yet to be quantified, exponentially worsening the difficulties that have already been felt for months by thousands of these workers’ families,” the note stated.

In light of this situation, the unions representing the company’s workers will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to take the necessary actions to demand immediate answers and solutions from the company’s management and the shareholders.

“The Portuguese state will also be confronted with this situation, which will also have to take steps to ensure a resolution that allows for a solution to be found to the problem,” the union also said.