By Humphrey Carter PALMA

THIS Thursday, the Spanish airport authority AENA's 10'500 employees will vote on the preliminary agreement reached between the unions and the government last week to avert 22 days of strike action over Easter and this Summer in protest over plans to part-privatise Spain's airports.

The preliminary agreement appears to have resolved the dispute with the government claiming the strikes are off and the Spanish tourist board mounting a damage limitation campaign across Europe proclaiming that Spain is open as usual this Easter and Summer.

But, the pact will be voted on by union rank-and-file this week and if passed will finally erase the threat of travel chaos over Easter and at busy times during the summer travel season.

Reached after 17 hours of negotiations at the start of last week, the agreement in principle would guarantee workers' jobs and current working conditions once the government proceeds with plans to sell off 49 percent of AENA.

This was a key demand of unions representing AENA's 13'000 employees, including the air traffic controllers who will not be included in Thursday's ballot.

The privatisation plan calls for the management of Madrid and Barcelona airports to go partly into private hands. Malaga and Palma airports could then follow.

The unions had called rolling strike days starting April 20, and including Easter Sunday, and then other days in May, June, July and August. “It is a good agreement. With dialogue you can get things done,” said Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco, who is responsible for AENA. “The tourism sector and people in general can rest assured they will be able to travel over Easter,” said Transport Secretary of State Isaias Taboas. The strike threat involved runway signalers, firefighters and other workers at debt-laden AENA. The government wants to sell up to 49 percent of it to cut a swollen public deficit and has gone about it through a decree that skirts parliamentary debate.

AENA's president Juan Lema had warned a strike would take a severe toll on Spain's key tourism sector as the country struggles to emerge from nearly two years of recession marked by a 20 percent jobless rate.

The threat of more airport chaos came just months after Spanish air traffic controllers angry over work schedules and other issues staged a wildcat strike over a busy long holiday weekend in December.

The government ended it abruptly by threatening them with jail terms and - under military law - placing soldiers in control towers to make sure controllers stayed on the job.

And, the unions have not had their final say yet and if the agreement is not approved, strikes could go ahead after all.