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By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
LATE on Monday night, Majorcan hotels began receiving their first cancellations because of the threatened airport strikes proving that substantial damage has already been done, even if the industrial action is averted.

The cancellations were reported by Sylvia Riera, the President of the Association of Balearic Travel Agents, and Marilen Pol, the President of the Majorcan Hotel Federation.

Pol said that she is not only saddened by the fact that people are starting to cancel holidays but also because bookings appear to be slowing down as consumers adopt either a “wait and see” position or decided to travel to an alternative sunshine destination.

Riera called on all parties locked in the dispute to reach a rapid solution because the longer the talks continue, the greater the alarm across Europe and the more damage prolonged negotiations will do to bookings which are currently well up on last year.

Yesterday, Spanish trade unions and the government were negotiating frantically in Madrid and here in Palma in an attempt to ward off a strike by airport staff which threatens to deal a heavy blow to the country's key tourism industry.

Yesterday afternoon, union sources claimed that talks were moving in the right direction now that the Ministry for Public Works had got directly involved in the negotiations.

A new offer from the airport management authority Aena yesterday has raised cautious hopes of an agreement, sources at the trade union confederation UGT said.

The strike is in protest against the partial privatisation of Aena, which unions see as undermining the rights of airport employees.
Aena staff includes baggage handlers, mechanics, fire crews, dispatchers operating aircraft parking ramps, and other professionals essential for the running of airport logistics.

The strike would cause losses worth 400 million euros during the Easter season alone, the industry calculates.
The eventual strike would “take citizens hostage and blackmail the entire country,” said Manuel Macineiras of the travel agencies' association Aedave in Madrid.

Aena has now offered new labour conditions to its employees after it is privatised.
The offer was “coherent,” though still far from sufficient, UGT said, but it could prove to be a step in the right direction.
Aena bosses yesterday guaranteed that if the strikes do go ahead, minimum services will be in place and the day-to-day operations of the airports will be unaffected and therefore, disruptions to travellers will be negligible.