Spanish air traffic controllers vote to strike in August


Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers face travel chaos after Spain’s air traffic controllers voted to strike in a row over pay and working hours.

The walkout is expected to begin in the third week of August causing maximum disruption to flights at the height of the summer holiday season.

It is thought the industrial action could last for at least three days affecting more than 2 million airline passengers travelling to and from the country, including an estimated 300,000 Britons.

The 2,300 controllers, who earn £167,000-a-year on average, are locked in a dispute with the Spanish Government claiming they are being forced to work excessively long hours.

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

A government decree passed last week outlined changes to controllers’ working hours and reductions in overtime pay, prompting anger from union members.

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”.

However, airlines and travel firms last night condemned the move warning that it would inflict severe damage on the tourist industry.

The Spanish Airlines Association said the action would lead to massive cancellations of bookings and a switch by holidaymakers to destinations in other Mediterranean countries.

Ryanair, the airline, called on the Spanish military to be drafted in to keep air traffic control services running.

A spokesman said: “While air traffic control workers have the right to strike it should not affect the travel plans of millions of European passengers.”

Spain’s development minister Jose Blanco defended the new decrees, insisting they improved working conditions.

He said the strike “lacked justification” and claimed minimal services will be maintained during the strike. That could mean up to 50 per cent of flights operating on strike days.

The date for the strike 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 40 per cent – cutting the average wage from £290,000-a-year to £167,000 – after it was revealed some enjoyed pay of up to £800,000-a-year.

In Britain the same workers earn a basic salary of between £60,000 and £90,000-a-year, according to National Air Traffic Services.

Spain is the UK’s most popular holiday destination, with around 17 million Britons heading there each year.

The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Establishments warned that the strike would have “serious economic consequences” for the tourism industry, which accounts for 11 per cent of the country’s economy.

The tourist industry has been badly hit over the past two years by the economic recession and the weak value of the pound against the euro, which has encouraged Britons to look elsewhere for their holidays.