By Humphrey Carter

THOUSANDS of Spanish airport authority AENA employees protested across the Balearics and Spain yesterday against the government's plans to begin privatising AENA's 49 Spanish airports.

Not only has the proposal angered the regional governments here in the Balearics and the Canary Islands, which depend on air connections, AENA employees are adamant that the airport authority “is not for sale.” Such was the slogan banded about across the country yesterday while protesters handed out leaflets to passengers explaining how the part-privatisation of the airports will affect them.

According to Spain's three main unions, the UGT, CC.OO and the USO, the possible consequences of the government's airport privatisation plans could lead to hikes in air fares because airport operating fees and taxes will be increased and passed on to the travelling public, a reduction in flight connections, an increase in competition between airports to attract passengers and the possible reduction in the amount of money invested in aeronautical security and safety in order to reduce costs.

According to the unions, maintaining necessary high levels of safety and security is expensive and they fear this is an area private companies taking up the maximum 49 percent stake in airports will look at.

What is more, not all of Spain's airports make a profit, many of the smaller regional ones run at a loss and the unions fear that, once part-privatised, many of the loss-making airports will be closed.

The largest protest in the Balearics was at Ibiza airport where the government also intends to put the air traffic control tower out to tender.

Any increase in air fares and airport operating costs will only damage the Balearics' tourist industry and business sector and this is why the Balearic government wants the local authorities, tourist sector and the business community to have a role in the management of the region's airports and not see the airports sold off to private investors who will have little or no knowledge of the specific problems and needs of the Balearics' airports.

Protesters in Ibiza, while handing out the leaflets to passengers were also asking them if they saw any advantages of privatisation.
The Secretary General of the UGT General Workers' Union in Ibiza, Diego Ruiz, said that workers are also angry because neither they nor the unions were consulted by the government in deciding to privatise the country's airports in this manner.

The Balearic government. with the full backing of the Canary Islands, has written to the Minister for Public Works, expressing its objection to the rash decision by the government in order to raise funds to cover the country's debt and the model on which the sell-off of the airports is going to be based.

The Balearic government has been lobbying Madrid for years to have a role in the running of the local airports and earlier this year it came close to achieving its goal.

But now, the government fears it may have lost its chance.
In the letter, the Minister for Transport and Environment, Gabriel Vicens, has urged the government to reconsider its plans or at least be flexible so that different management models can be adopted.

The CC.OO Workers' Commission warned yesterday that this national protest is just the first of a wave of action the unions intend to take unless the government agrees to reconsider its sell-off plans.

AENA employees have already threatened a series of strikes over the festive period and they are now prepared to step up their industrial action if the government does not cooperate.


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