By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
TOUR operators and travel agents were continuing to report that the pending threat of a three-day air traffic control strike later this months is prompting holiday cancellations and forcing late bookers to opt for alternative sunshine destinations.

Talks between Spain's airports authority AENA and the air traffic controllers' union USCA broke down late on Friday, leaving open the possibility of industrial action.

The airport authority and the USCA union representing the air traffic controllers have been in dispute over pay and working conditions. AENA maintained that without an agreement by Friday it would take the issue to arbitration.

Yesterday AENA said they were prepared to return to the negotiating table “immediately” if the union called off the strike first but the offer appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

Spokesperson for USCA, Daniel Zamit, responded by laying down a deadline of Monday for AENA to return to talks otherwise the union's executive committee will meet to officially call strike action.

Tourism officials and airline authorities have complained about the threat of a strike in the busiest month for the tourism industry which is having another tough season. “The board of directors of the Air Traffic Controllers' Union has decided to call an urgent board meeting to discuss the breakdown in talks,” the union said in a note, adding that it would take a decision on whether to call a strike as soon as possible.

The union said it remained open to negotiations, which broke down after two days of talks between the two sides.
The government could force the two sides into an arbitration process should it perceive that a strike could cause serious economic damage and delays in service.

Controllers' relatively high salaries and short working hours have drawn criticism from the Spanish media as the country imposes painful public sector pay cuts to ease its deficit and allay concerns over sovereign debt solvency.

Any stoppage to the country's civil aviation is likely to cause havoc in a country that only surfaced from an 18-month long recession at the start of the year.

The strike could cost hoteliers 40 million euros a day in losses, not to mention resort business income.

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