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Spanish airport strike back on and set to affect key travel dates

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Spanish airport strike back on and set to affect key travel dates
Strike action by Iberia staff could disrupt travel plans over a key weekend. Photo: PAU BARRENA/AFP.

After postponing walk-outs when the government stepped in as an intermediary in negotiations, Spanish trade unions have now reinstated calls for strike action over key January travel dates at airports across Spain.

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Air travel could be affected at airports across Spain in early January after trade unions renewed calls for walk-outs by its Iberia ground staff. This comes after the unions, UGT and CCOO, had previously postponed industrial action when the government stepped in as an intermediary in negotiations.

Yet negotiations have once again broken down and unions are now calling for walk-outs on January 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th. The USO union (Unión Sindical Obrera) has also joined the call for strikes, and some 8,000 Iberia workers are set to take part in the stoppages, which fall right in the middle of the Epiphany holidays and will disrupt travel as many Spaniards return from their Christmas holidays.

Unions had originally proposed strike action for eight dates over New Year (December 29th, 30th and 31st) and early January (1st, 4th, 5th, and 8th), one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

This was postponed, however, and there had been hopes that strike action could be averted altogether when Spain’s Ministry of Transport stepped in as a mediator in negotiations, but no settlement was reached and strike action has been reactivated. Iberia has described the decision as "unjustified" because it has made what it considers to be an "ambitious" offer.

Though it is Iberia ground staff in dispute with the airline, the walk-outs will affect several airlines because Iberia Airport Services - the airline's subsidiary that provides ground services, including passenger transfer, loading and baggage collection, and ramp services to planes - usually handles ground services for several other airlines and Iberia Express, the budget arm of Iberia.

When and where is the strike?

The strike action will take place over the weekend of Epiphany, a key travel period and for many Spaniards the most important Christmas celebration. Even though Christmas Day is celebrated across Spain and the festive spirit is very much alive, Spaniards still tend to go 'all in' on January 6th with the arrival of 'los Reyes' (the Three Kings). 

READ ALSO: Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa

Flights scheduled to arrive or depart Spanish airports on Friday January 5th, Saturday 6th, Sunday 7th and Monday 8th could be affected.

The action will involve staff at twenty-nine airports served by the Iberia Airport Services company. The busiest airports affected will be those in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia, Málaga, Seville, Palma and Tenerife.

It is worth noting that the situation is fluid. Negotiations may restart and strike action could be called off or postponed again.

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What is the dispute about?

The dispute first arose because Iberia, unions claim, will not create a "self-handling" service (ground services provided by the company itself) at airports where it recently lost a public tender for services called by Aena, the Spanish airport operator.

Unions fear that the outsourcing of former Iberia workers to new service operators will negatively impact their working conditions and rights. In total, around 8,000 staff employed at the Iberia Airport Services subsidiary would be affected.

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