Air traffic controllers strike at 16 Spanish airports

OVIEDO (AA): Air traffic controllers at 16 Spanish airports, including Valencia and Palma de Mallorca, began their second day of strikes on Monday.

The air traffic controllers are set to keep striking every Monday until at least the end of February.

However, the disruptions to flights have been minimal so far due to what unions are calling “abusive” minimum services that workers are legally required to carry out.

“They are cornering us, and this isn’t going to end well,” said Gregorio Claros, spokesperson for the USCA union and air traffic controller in Seville. “We could continue all the way through Easter week or maybe even summer.”

The air traffic controllers in the 16 affected airports – A Coruna, Alicante-Elche, Castellon, Cuatro Vientos, El Hierro, Fuerteventura, Ibiza, Jerez, Lanzarote, La Palma, Lleida, Murcia, Sabadell, Sevilla, Valencia and Vigo – are all working for private companies as opposed to being employed by the Spanish state.

They say they are the “worst-paid” air traffic controllers in Europe and the only ones who have to pay for their own training.

Negotiations between the unions and the companies broke down in January. The unions claim this year’s contract renewal meant workers were losing purchasing power, being forced to work more, and being subject to worse working conditions.

The USCA union says fruitful negotiations are key “at this moment when air traffic is returning to normal levels and the image of the main economic activity of Spain (tourism) is being harmed by the level of delays in airports.”

The unions also denounce the trend of following the “low-cost” airline model in air traffic control by liberalizing the market and squeezing workers.

In Spain, the government partially liberalized the market for air traffic controllers 12 years ago.

Besides air traffic controllers, travelers in Spain have recently had to navigate through strikes staged by employees at Ryanair, Air Nostrum, and Vueling.