Sunday 23 July 2017

Holidaymakers facing Spanish strike chaos

Tom Worden

IRISH tourists face travel chaos after Spanish air traffic controllers voted to strike at the height of the summer holiday season.

The controllers, who earn an average of €200,000 a year, are striking over what they call excessive working hours.

The USCA union, representing around 95pc of the controllers, held a ballot with 98pc in favour of industrial action..

They will strike for at least three days this month, the busiest month for air travel, affecting thousands of holidaymakers. The strike date has not yet been set but it is expected to start on August 18.

In February this year the government slashed controllers' salaries by around 40pc after it was revealed some were earning up to €900,000 a year.

The average wage was reduced from €350,000 a year to €250,000 a year last February.

The workers are now protesting against a new government decree, passed last Friday, outlining changing in working hours and reducing overtime pay.

The USCA says some controllers will be forced to work up to 28 days a month, describing them as "the worst conditions for the profession in Europe".

But Spain's transport minister Jose Blanco defended the new decrees, insisting they improved working conditions.

Justification

He said the strike "lacked justification" and claimed minimal services will be maintained during the strike.

That could mean up to 50pc of flights operating on strike days. It will be the first legal strike in the industry's history in Spain.

The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Establishments warned that the strike would have "serious economic consequences" for the tourism industry, which accounts for 11pc of the country's economy.

The tourist industry has been badly hit over the past two years by the economic recession.

The date and duration of the strike hadn't been decided, union spokesman Cesar Cabo told reporters in Madrid yesterday.

The unions say that members' health is threatened by higher workload because the government hasn't hired additional staff since 2006 as the number of flights to Spain rose.

Mr Blanco said last month that he may ask the army to take control of managing air traffic after a third of the controllers in Barcelona called in sick. The Spanish pilots' group said such a move may endanger passengers.

Controllers are getting two days off each month due to staff shortages while the royal decree passed July 30 stipulates they should receive at least six days rest, Mr Cabo said.

Under the new rules, they will also be on call 365 day a year, he said.

Irish Independent

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