By Humphrey Carter PALMA

THE domestic and international tourist industry voiced its outrage yesterday over the threat of industrial action by Spanish airport staff and air traffic controllers over the Easter holiday period.

One leading UK tour industry source said “bring back the army they did such a good job last time” referring to the air traffic controllers strike at the end of last year. “I trust and hope that commonsense prevails,” he added.
The President of the Balearic Association of Travel Agents, Sylvia Riera expressed her concern that there would be a repeat of the chaos caused by the air traffic controllers.

Riera yesterday wrote to the Balearic Minister for Tourism, Joana Barcelo, expressing her fears and calling for tough action to be taken to avert a strike action that could ruin all the hard work which has gone into reviving the tourist industry this year.

The strike threat has come from a union representing the flight controllers which has issued a veiled threat to “covertly strike” in the run up to Easter in an ongoing battle over employment contracts.

Jose Blanco, the development minister who oversees Spain's airports has vowed to slash the salaries of air traffic controllers in a bid to reduce costs at Spain's loss-making airports. Earlier this month it was revealed that some controllers are earning up to £800'000 after adding overtime pay to the basic salary of £175'000.

The data was revealed against the wishes of the air traffic controllers' unions and provoked outrage across Spain, where the average salary is £16'000, according to government figures. Blanco said he wanted to see a 40 per cent reduction in the take home pay of air traffic controllers after it emerged Spain's 48 state-run airports had incurred a loss last year of £260 million. “I have taken the decision to take the bull by the horns and end the privileges of these controllers,” he told the Spanish parliament.
Spain's state airport operator AENA is currently negotiating with the air traffic controllers over a new contract which will freeze wages and limit overtime when the current agreement runs out at the end of March.

A public statement made by the controllers' union rejected the cuts and warned that it would lead to undercover industrial action during the Easter week. “You will have to put up once again with the suspicion of a covert strike,” it said.
But, it is not just the air traffic controllers which continue to be unhappy.
AENA staff oppose the government's plan, which was approved yesterday, to sell off 49 percent of the AENA's airports as part of a part-privatisation project.

Today, Palma airport staff are going to hold a mass protest outside the central government delegation in Palma while a wave of protests are expected across the country by staff who look set to second any strike action over Easter.

Madrid and Barcelona are the first two airports to be part privatised followed by Palma and Malaga and not even the Balearic government is impressed with the project and is lobbying central government for a more flexible model which will allow the local government, business and tourism sectors have a role in managing Palma airport in the best interests of the island.