Expected chaos in airports as air traffic controllers vote to go on strike in August

In a decision that will hit Spanish airspace heavily in one of the busiest months of the year, the country?s air traffic controllers are to go on strike for the first time in history

CNA / Laura Pous

August 4, 2010 11:37 PM

Air traffic controllers in Spain have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in a dispute over changes to their labour conditions. On Tuesday, 98% of the workers, affiliated with the Air Controllers Union (USCA) in Spain, voted in favour of strike action. There was a 92% turnout. The strike will take place in the second half of August (probably on 18 or 20 August).
The strike, announced by the Union, will be the first by air traffic controllers in Spanish history. The 1,800 controllers will stop working in one of the busiest months of the year for air traffic; in the peak-summer season. Tens of thousands of people are expected to suffer disruption to their flights as a result.

The air traffic controllers will protest against the sector’s new labour regulations, passed by the Spanish government. According to USCA, the new regulations require that they work more hours and rest less, thus putting passengers' security at risk.
The president of the union, Camilo Cela, criticised the government’s decision to approve the changes without concluding talks with the workers, adding that strike action is the “only way” to guarantee “workers dignity.” Cela voiced regret that the government “have ruined the talks” by changing the regulations without the workers’ consent.

Government reaction

Aena, the Spanish public company in charge of the airports, said that the strike “will not benefit anyone” and “will seriously harm” society, especially, “the passengers and the tourist and economic sectors.” The company said in a statement that the strike, “although lawful” is “unfair and unjustified.” Aena confirmed that the company is happy to renew its discussions with the union.

The Spanish government will “guarantee” minimum services in the airports, said the Minister of Public Works of the Spanish government, José Blanco. The politician explained that he does not expect to use military air controllers because he trusts what the union says. However, the military will be available to manage air traffic in Spain if the strike results in “exceptional situations.” Blanco also criticised the union’s call for strike action at a “moment of great difficulties” for the Spanish state.

Tensions between the government and the air controllers intensified recently after politicians accused the workers of perpetrating a covert strike. Between 30% and 50% of the air controllers went on sick leave, in a move that the government saw as a way of forcing changes to the new regulations. Air traffic controllers, on the other hand, argued that the new working conditions caused them fatigue, stress and depression.