Spanish Government says there won't be more air strikes during Christmas
Zapatero's government justifies the decision to declare the state of alert and guarantees that the Christmas holidays will not suffer any disruptions. However, passengers face new threats as ground staff considers taking industrial action against the plans to privatise the air traffic authority
Madrid (ACN).- Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero justified the decision to declare a state of alert for the first time in democracy in order to break an unauthorised strike by air traffic controllers. The strike left 600,000 people stranded and forced the closure of the Spanish air space. During an event to celebrate the 32 anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, Zapatero said that the decision was the \u201Cright\u201D one. \u201CThe measures had the expected results, which were to get the situation back to normal in less than 24 hours after a huge crisis at airports\u201D, Zapatero said.
The leader of Spanish opposition, Mariano Rajoy, accepted the emergency decision taken by Zapatero, but urged the president to inform all citizens about the details of the crisis. \u201CThe government should give an answer to all Spaniards about what caused us to suffer such a deplorable situation\u201D, he said. In fact, Mariano Rajoy, from the Conservative People's Party, was stranded at Lanzarote's airport during the strike.
Both leaders discussed the situation briefly during the anniversary celebration of the Constitution. Zapatero is expected to inform the Parliament about all the decisions taken during the strike next Thursday.
Passengers might face new strikes
The Spanish Government declared a state of alert on Saturday and air traffic controllers came back to work, but now José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is facing a new threat from AENA's airport workers, who take care of runways and luggage, amongst other things. On Thursday, ground staff at airports will decide whether or not to take industrial action. Airports could face days of misery again, but this time air traffic controllers wouldn't be to blame, as they would still be 'mobilised' by the army following the declaration of the state of alert.
The Coordinating Union of Airport Workers will announce its calendar of mobilisations and strikes during the Christmas holidays this Thursday. The move could cause huge disruptions at Spanish airports again, as most ground staff could stop working. Pilots are also looking into the possibility of striking, but they are considering whether Zapatero's government could force them to work by sending in the military as it did with the air traffic controllers.
The Unions are planning to strike during Christmas to protest against the Spanish Government\u2019s plans to privatise 49% of the air traffic authority and to allow the Barcelona and Madrid airports to be privately managed through an administrative concession.
Air traffic controllers, to Court
On Thursday, air traffic controllers will appear in Court in Madrid to give evidence about their strike. Most of the air controllers in Spain called in sick on Friday of last week, and the government forced them to go back to work by sending the military into the airports and declaring, for the first time in democracy, a state of alert. Air traffic controllers may be charged with sedition. However, sources at the Prosecutor\u2019s office told CNA that they won't be charged according to military code, but rather according to ordinary justice. That's because no air traffic controller failed his or her obligations to work once the state of alert was declared on Saturday.
Air controllers who committed 'minor' offences face between three months to three years of prison. However, those considered to be the 'leaders' of the strike could be sentenced for up to eight years. The Spanish Government said that it aims to differentiate between 'instigators' and 'coerced' workers. According to the Transport Minister, José Blanco, the most active strikers were 500 of the 2,400 air traffic controllers in the state.
The unknown costs of the air traffic crisis
The Spanish Industry, Tourism and Trade minister, Miguel Sebastián, said it was 'too early' to describe the full impact of the air traffic crisis in the economy, especially in the tourism sector. However, he said that the damage caused to Spain\u2019s reputation as a tourist destination would be minimal because the government had an 'efficient and strong' response to the crisis.
He argued that tour operators won't cancel their reservations for the Christmas holidays because Spain is still a 'credible' tourist destination. Up to 3 million foreign tourists are expected to visit the state during Christmas, according to Sebastián. He said that the costs of the crisis will be analysed in the coming days and guaranteed that no similar situation will happen in Spain again.
However, the association of tour operators has already said that the strike will cost them more than 250 million euros. This money does not include airline and hotel losses due to cancellations. Tourism represents up to 11% of the Spanish GDP. The minister said that if the government thinks it is necessary, they could expand the state of alert beyond 15 days.