By Humphrey Carter


THE President of the Balearics, Francesc Antich, hailed the news that Spanish airport operator Aena and the unions have reached a preliminary agreement to call off 22 days of strike action between April and August as “extremely positive” for both the region's tourist industry and the creation of jobs.

The agreement, struck in early hours of yesterday morning, takes on board the unions' concerns over labour conditions and job security for the state airport operator's nearly 13'000 staff in the face of a planned government part privatisation of Aena by selling off 49 percent, union representatives said. “The agreement was reached after nearly 20 hours of talks,” Aena said in a press release, noting that the accord still had to be voted on by workers.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the agreement meant airports would work at normal capacity during the Easter and summer holiday periods.

Around 77 percent of tourists come to Spain via air travel, bringing more than 190 million passengers through Spanish airports every year, he said.
However, one analyst expressed caution on the provisional agreement. “We welcome this announcement, albeit we stress that it is a pre-agreement that needs to be confirmed by workers in a poll,” said Eduardo Coelho, analyst at broker BPI.

Spain said in December that it wanted to partially privatise the state airport operator, which it says could be worth up to 30 billion euros, alongside its state lottery as part of plans to reduce the national debt.

Air traffic controller strikes in early December stranded thousands of passengers and caused chaos at Spanish airports bringing the country to a near stand still.

That dispute was broken by the air force being out in charge of the air traffic control towers and striking air traffic controllers facing military courts.

The preliminary agreement could not have come at a better time with reports of cancellations already being received and a slow down in the sale of Spanish holidays in core markets such as the UK also being noted.

With an extra one million tourists expected to visit the Balearics this year creating 10'000 new jobs, Francesc Antich breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday. “We've been living through one of the worst recessions ever and the strikes would have caused irreparable damage to the local holiday industry and the economy,” he said. “The current tourism figures, with bookings significantly up in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, could lift the Balearics out of recession next year and I hope Aena employees realise that strike action would have also damaged their future prospects too,” he added.

But, while the strikes appear to have been avoided, the Balearics is not happy about how central government intends to sell of 49 percent of Aena.
The first two airports to be part-privatised will be in Madrid and Barcelona but Malaga and Palma are expected to follow and Antich repeated yesterday that the local authorities want a more flexible model and certainly do not want an overseas outfit to come in and take over 49 percent of Palma's Son San Joan airport, traditionally the busiest charter airport in Europe during the summer.

The government wants the local business and tourism sectors involved in running the airport to specifically meet the needs of Majorca and the Balearics.