Germany to fast-track foreign airport workers to ease travel chaos

BERLIN, June 29 (Reuters) - The German government will fast-track work permits and visas for several thousand foreign airport workers, mainly from Turkey, to help to ease summer travel chaos that has frustrated holidaymakers, German ministers said on Wednesday.

Travellers across Europe are facing especially long queues at airports this summer partly because there are not enough staff to handle the rebound in demand after COVID-19 lockdowns.

The support is valuable for companies in the sector, Stefan Schulte, chief executive at Germany's largest airport operator Fraport FRAG.DE , said in an interview with broadcaster RTL.

"We've been looking abroad for staff for a long time, we're also hiring staff, but the market is extremely tight," the CEO told RTL as he apologized to passengers for the flight delays and long waiting times at airports.

Germany's aviation sector now aims to bring workers with airport experience to Germany, mainly from Turkey, to work with grounds crews, including in baggage handling, interior minister Nancy Faeser said at a news conference earlier on Wednesday.

They will have to undergo the same security checks as domestic airport workers before being allowed to work at airports, she said.

Airlines, some of which had hoped to hire foreign staff through temporary work agencies, will have to employ workers directly and at standard wages, labour minister Heil said.

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil blamed the staffing shortages on airlines and airport operators, saying they had let too many workers go during the pandemic who had now found jobs in other sectors, such as parcel delivery.

"It would have been up to the companies to take action. We see now that that wasn't done to a sufficient extent," he said.

Lufthansa LHAG.DE Chief Executive Carsten Spohr on Tuesday apologised to employees and customers for the chaos, saying the flagship carrier had made mistakes when it cut costs during the pandemic to try to save the company.

Heil said that the government's intervention to help companies bring foreign workers to German airports was a temporary measure to ease the strain on holidaymakers.

"It is not a long-term solution. It is up to the companies to ensure that they are attractive employers, with decent conditions and wages," Heil said.
Reporting by Klaus Lauer, Maria Sheahan and Zuzanna Szymanska. Editing by Jane Merriman and David Evans

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