Tribune de Genève.
Around 30 people have been banned from the tarmac at Geneva airport. Just before Christmas a number of airport staff had their access passes revoked for security reasons. Angry, some have called on the SSP union and a lawyer.
Bag handlers were among the employees affected. Removing tarmac access means these staff have effectively lost their jobs. Many are trying to find out the exact reasons behind the actions. Some have engaged the SSP union and a lawyer who are concerned the Geneva authorities have given in to paranoia in the face of the terrorist threat in Europe.
One of those affected, a 33 year old muslim man of French nationality, said “I understand the tightening of security after the attacks in Paris but they’ve picked the wrong people. Why me?” He thinks his loss of access is unjustified. “I’ve worked at the airport for 7 years without any problems” said the man from Haute Savoie.
He admits to having unpaid Geneva parking fines of CHF 700, witnessing a fight in 2011 (case closed with no action) and not taking a compulsory course to get back points lost on his French driving licence – in France you lose points for violations. “If it’s related to these things then it’s ridiculous. My employer has suspended me. I’m not even unemployed. This is unethical and financial damaging. On the morning of 23 December 2015, I arrived at work at 5am and my access pass didn’t work. I thought it was a mistake. My manager didn’t know what was happening”.
He is trying to understand the motives behind the decision. The airport pass office sent him to the international security police who advised him to talk to French intelligence. “I arranged an interview with them in Annemasse. I wasn’t in their files. They told me to contact the Haute Savoie prefecture to see my file. I’m waiting for their response.”
In the end the bag handler went to the SSP union and a Geneva lawyer who is defending several people in the same situation. “We are challenging this decision by Geneva airport that was made at the request of Geneva’s department for security and the economy (DSE). We want to know the criteria used” announced the lawyer. “I’m going to demand a suspension so these people can continue to work”.
The SSP union reacted strongly. “Without wanting to interfere in the police’s work, aimed at protecting the public and passengers, we are challenging this from the perspective of workers rights. We must remember that these people, who are being assumed to pose a security threat, have the right to be presumed innocent. Their passes were taken without a chance for them to be heard. That goes against the Swiss code of obligations”.
Several have sent letters to the DSE asking for an explanation. The DSE was not forthcoming, instead reminding them that pass holders sign a form which says they understand and accept that Geneva airport can refuse or withdraw the pass at any time. The pass can be removed unilaterally when necessary. There is no right to have one.
A union representative pointed out that most of those concerned are on insecure short term contracts, have arabic sounding names and are French nationals residing in France. The DSE said the checks were random and not focused on crossborder workers from France.
Employees of both Swissport and Dnata are affected. The director of Swissport, who have five staff that lost their access, said “This poses an operational problem. The staff must depart right away. All of our positions require a pass so we are not able to offer them another opportunity”. Dnata confirmed that one of their people on a fixed contract was affected.
A spokesperson for the airport said “In the process of issuing or renewing the access passes of the 10,000 staff on site, done with input from the police, some cards were withdrawn following the policy announced by Geneva state councillor Pierre Maudet on 3 December 2015.
Roissy airport outside Paris announced it had withdrawn access passes from 57 employees suspected of radicalisation.
Last summer, Pierre Maudet reduced the validity of passes from 5 to 2 years. Currently, anyone applying for one of these positions must provide their police records relating to all places of residence in Switzerland or abroad. These records are sent to the airport pass issuing service, then to the international security police who check them against National Aviation Security criteria. The files are also submitted to the French police. Are they systematically looked at to see if there is a file on the individual at French intelligence? It’s difficult to know. Until now this research has been done on a case by case basis.