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Taxi strike could harm Zurich airport

Taxi drivers on strike at Zurich airport Keystone

The taxi-driver strike at Zurich airport is seriously damaging its image among passengers, according to the hub’s operating company Unique.

Passengers are becoming increasingly frustrated with transport delays to the city and a lack of information as the strike continues with no sign of a solution on the horizon.

On Thursday, the fourth day of the strike, Unique said it would not renew its exclusive contract with IG Airport Taxi – the umbrella group for the taxi companies servicing Zurich airport.

Some travellers arriving at the airport on Wednesday expressed sympathy for the taxi drivers, who are demanding an SFr4,000 ($3,108) minimum monthly salary and improved working conditions, but most said they were annoyed with the inconvenience.

Liz Brown, who travelled from London for a business meeting on Wednesday, told swissinfo that the industrial action had upset her plans. “This is not what I expected and not a good reflection on so-called Swiss efficiency,” she said.

“I’m fed up because if I had been informed about this I could have made other arrangements and not been late for my meeting. I have to come back to Zurich every day for the rest of the week and I am not looking forward to it.”

Unique has laid on two courtesy buses that ferry passengers to a point outside the airport where passengers can take taxis. The airport’s limousine service is also operating a cut-price service to Zurich city centre and staff are on hand in the arrivals hall to advise passengers.

Unique concerned

But a spokeswoman for Unique admitted that the strike is causing damage. “The image of the airport is suffering greatly because passengers do not know there is a strike going on,” she said.

“We are very concerned because we don’t want our passengers to suffer from a conflict that is going on between the taxi drivers and their employers.”

The strike began on Monday after negotiations between drivers, represented by the country’s largest union Unia, and employers IG Airport Taxi broke down. Unia claims that drivers are forced to work up to 80 hours per week for as little as SFr3,000 with insufficient provision for sick pay.

The union says the problem started on January 1 last year when a new contract between IG Airport Taxi and Unique came into force, increasing the annual fee charged by the airport for each car working there from SFr5,000 to SFr10,000.

The number of licences for taxis to work at the airport has also been increased, making it harder to find business, drivers claim.

“We cannot live on SFr3,000 a month because the cost of living is too high in Switzerland,” said driver Pituctin Viroj, who has been working at the airport for six years. “I have to work 12 hours a day now just to make ends meet, which is putting the safety of my passengers at risk.”

Geneva support

Severino Maurutto, president of the Geneva Taxi Drivers’ Union, said his members backed the strike by colleagues at Zurich airport.

“We support their demands for a fair wage,” he told swissinfo. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to work in our trade.”

Geneva taxi drivers staged a two-hour strike at the city’s airport last month after the cantonal authorities decided that all cabs should be painted yellow. It is one of a number of measures contained in a new taxi law which has angered drivers.

Passengers at Zurich, in the meantime, must continue to find other ways into the city until the dispute is resolved.

“I’ve travelled in Europe too often to be surprised by strikes,” said Tariq Shaban from the United States, who arrived in Zurich with his wife and two teenaged children. “It’s definitely frustrating, but I think it might be going a bit too far to say it gives Zurich a bad image.”

swissinfo, Matthew Allen at Zurich airport

IG Airport Taxi is the umbrella group for seven separate taxi companies that service Zurich airport.
The striking drivers are demanding a minimum SFr4,000 a month wage and better conditions.
Each taxi that works at Zurich airport must pay an annual fee of SFr10,000.
Zurich airport handled 132,600 flights and 8,465,759 passengers between January and June this year.

Zurich was not the only Swiss airport with problems on Wednesday – around 100 passengers were stuck at Basel because nine Swiss flights had been cancelled.

The national carrier has temporarily suspended 52 pilots who complained in an open letter to management.

The pilots said their anxiety about their future with the company – which is being taken over by Germany’s Lufthansa – could affect cockpit safety.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR