Brussels airport moves to end baggage-handlers' strike

BRUSSELS Thu May 16, 2013 9:06am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brussels airport began to resume baggage operations on Thursday after a four-day strike by baggage-handlers over working conditions left more than 20,000 pieces of luggage stranded in Belgium's largest hub.

Baggage-handling firm Swissport appeared to have reached an agreement with unions late on Wednesday, but some employees remained on strike, airport officials said.

A Swissport spokesman declined to comment. One union official told Reuters on Thursday "we are still involved in negotiations", while another said: "lots of people don't agree."

Airport authorities said on Thursday they would seize equipment from Swissport and bar the company's employees who were not at work from entering the secure area of the airport.

Swissport's unions say staff shortages at the company have led to excessive work pressure and compromised workers' safety.

The strike has already become the longest of its kind at the airport in Zaventem, northeast of the Belgian capital.

The work stoppage comes a year after Swissport announced the acquisition of Flightcare Belgium, adding ground handling services to its cargo operations at the airport.

Once the strike is fully over, the task remains of returning thousands of bags and suitcases to their owners.

"That's going to be a hell of a job," said Jan Van der Cruysse, an airport spokesman, adding: "Everything will be returned, but it might take a few days."

Swissport operates at nearly 200 airports in almost 40 countries. The company has faced several strikes such as at London's Stansted Airport last summer and in Madrid's Barajas Airport in late 2011, involving more than 900 employees.

(Reporting By Anders Melin; editing by Rex Merrifield and Andrew Roche)

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