By Humphrey Carter

THE race is on to avert strike action by Spanish airport staff over the Easter holidays and yesterday, the Minister for Public Works, Jose Blanco, claimed he is confident a deal will be struck in time. The unions, however, think differently.

Over the weekend, Balearic airport staff mounted large protests outside central government delegations in Ibiza, Minorca and Palma in opposition to the government's plans to sell off 49 percent stakes at the country's main airports, such as Palma, to the private sector.

The plan has even attracted stiff opposition from the Balearic government which wants a more flexible model involving the local authorities, business and tourism sectors involved in managing the region's airports. But, while the local government presses its case with Madrid, the unions have threatened strike action over Easter which could drag on into the summer season.

Here in the Balearics, Spanish airport operator Aena employs a total of 1'200 people and many fear that privatisation will not only lead to immediate job losses, it will also lead to hikes in operating costs for the airlines which could force some carriers to reduce their flight operations and therefore further jobs, and tourists, would be lost as a result.

Union bosses who represent the 600 Aena employees at Palma airport said yesterday that airports services are going to cost more while a public company “is not going to provide job guarantees.” The move has also increased the tensions between the government and the air traffic controllers who brought the country to a halt for 24 hours last year with covert strike action.

Hundreds of controllers have been appearing in courts across the country and face prosecution for the illegal strike but they are not ruling out backing any industrial action by fellow Aena staff.

In a year when Spanish and Balearic tourism has turned the corner, wide spread industrial action could ruin all the hard work which has been done by the industry.