Rome Airport Probes Baggage Handler 'Sabotage'

August 7, 2007

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Rome Airport conducted an investigation on Monday into accusations that baggage handlers were deliberately slowing down the delivery of luggage, leaving many travellers waiting at least an hour for their bags.

The head of Italy's aviation authority has said that "sabotage" by workers was behind chronic baggage delays at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, infuriating unions who said privatization and lack of investment were really to blame.

"We have well-founded suspicions that equipment is regularly being tampered with by workers to make their work easier," Vito Riggio, chairman of Italy's civil aviation authority ENAC told a newspaper over the weekend.

Riggio said workers were slowing down the flow of baggage by using things such as chewing gum to cover up barcode readers that sort the bags and that electric trolleys used to ferry bags to and from aircraft were often found to be lacking power.

Delays at the airport -- gateway for thousands of tourists to one of the world's most visited cities -- have become so bad that Transport Minister Alessandro Bianchi has summoned ENAC and airport operator Aeroporti di Roma (ADR) to explain the situation to him on Tuesday.

Bianchi said the government could revoke baggage handling concessions to the four companies that operate at Fiumicino if they are found wanting.

"If the contracts are not respected, the concessions should be able to be revoked instantly," he told Il Messaggero daily. "We also need a whole system of sanctions. That's what we'll be talking about at tomorrow's meeting."

Unions hit back at accusations against their members.

"Rather than accusing workers of sabotage, ENAC would do better to look for the causes of these grave service lapses -- the lack of investment in recent years. That, unfortunately has been the result of privatizing ADR," said Dario Balotta of the Fit-Cisl union.

In addition to luggage delays, visitors to Italy regularly have to put up with strikes, particularly at national airline Alitalia in which the government is trying to sell, so far unsuccessfully, its controlling stake.