Palma.—Following Friday's private coach transport strike in the Balearics which caused havoc for thousands of tourists wanting to get to and from regional airports, management and unions are meeting today in the hope of reaching - and signing - a collective bargaining agreement.

The meeting will take place at 10am today at the head offices in Palma of the Balearic Transport Federation (FETB). Leading private transport company figures will meet up with key representatives from the two main unions involved, the Workers Commission (CCOO) and the General Workers Union (UGT), along with those from smaller independent unions (USO) and (SITD).

Francisco Melgarejo representing USO said yesterday that everyone attending today's meeting is doing so “in a spirit of optimism”. He said that the key aims are to secure better working conditions, to avoid eroding the rights that private coach drivers established 20 years ago and to negotiate a salary increase of between 2.5 and 3 percent.

Melgarejo said that if no agreement is reached today, then industrial action will be taken - not in the form that it did last week stranding almost half a million tourists - but rather in the form of work to rule where drivers will do not a minute more than the 7.5 hours on the job which already-established agreements stipulate. “And not the 16 or 17 hours that some of us are doing in the middle of the high tourist season,” he warned, complaining that extra hours worked were paid at a lower rate than earning during the 7.5 hour shift.

Meanwhile, FEBT's Managing Director Salvador Servera said yesterday: “Of course, association members will be entering the negotiations with a positive attitude, wanting to establish a timetable for satisfying staff demands.” He claimed that contrary to Union suggestions, management had never sought to freeze salaries. “What we want is to continue boosting employment through serving the tourist industry,” said Servera, at the same time giving a reminder about the economic damage that had been done to the Balearics by last Friday's strike. He said that the move has “dented the image” of the Balearics as a tourist destination. “It was a disappointment for those who considered the Islands to be a safe haven from such industrial unrest,” he said.

Servera also pointed out that the peak tourist season is really just three months long and that during this time, the best advantage has to be taken of potential business for the long term benefit of companies and their staff.

Melgarejo explained that private coach company drivers work between four and six months a year and for the rest of the time have to make ends meet as best they can. He said that his union had stopped striking out of a sense of responsibility to the Balearics, but added that the government should now intervene if no agreement is reached today.

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