By Humphrey Carter

SPANISH air traffic controllers were yesterday accused by the Balearic Minister for Tourism, Joana Barcelo, “of holding the Spanish economy” by dragging out their threat to take strike action later this month.

However, with some sections of the Spanish tourist industry, such as hotel federations threatening to sue air traffic controllers for losses incurred during the proposed three-day strike if it does go ahead, the travel industry could face further disruption later this month if BAA staff at Heathrow, Edinburgh, Stansted and Glasgow airport vote in favour of strike action on Thursday, the very same day Spanish air traffic controllers are expected to also make their final decision.

The potential strike action by BAA workers could lead to closure of their four airports and the industrial action could also clash with the air traffic controllers' strike here in Spain.

Yesterday afternoon, spokesperson for the USCA, the largest air traffic controllers' union, said that they are willing to return to the negotiating table with Spanish airport authority AENA providing the airport authority gives some ground and agrees to some of their demands.

But, if AENA stand its ground, the union representing Spain's air traffic controllers will meet on Thursday to decide whether to go ahead with a strike over working conditions, a union member said yesterday.

This means any walkout, which could disrupt flights at the peak of the tourist season, would not take place until at least August 22 as the union must give a formal 10-day warning of strike action. “On Thursday we will have a meeting of our executive committee which will take some decisions,” a source at the Union of Air Traffic Controllers said yesterday. We still hope that it will not be necessary to call a strike and we can reach an agreement with” AENA.

Transport Minister Jose Blanco warned on Sunday of the “serious damage to the economy and tourism of our country” if the strike goes ahead.
Exceltur, an association that represents more than 20 major travel industry groups in Spain, also warned it may take legal action against the controllers if they proceed with the walkout.

It urged them to accept AENA's offer of arbitration to resolve the dispute.
The controllers are angry over a government decree on working conditions announced last month which would reduce rest periods and cut generous overtime benefits.

The government has called the “millionaire salaries” enjoyed by the controllers “incomprehensible privileges” at a time of austerity to slash Spain's public deficit, the eurozone's third-highest after Greece and Ireland.


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