ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’armée espagnole coupe les ailes aux grévistes
by Damien Roustel
Translated Friday 10 December 2010, by Bill Scobleand reviewed by
It’s unheard of in thirty five years of Spanish democracy! On Saturday, the Spanish government chose strong-arm tactics to put an end to the wildcat strike of air traffic controllers which began Friday, stranding 300,000 passengers in Spanish airports. Using a provision for emergency situations, the authorities reëstablished air traffic by declaring a state of alarm. This means that the controllers have been placed under the authority of the army for fifteen days. Those who refuse to cooperate are subject to judicial indictment. In light of the situation, the strikers decided to return to work. “We have applied the law with firmness. There will be no problems in our airports either during Christmas or after!”, Alfred Perez Rubalcaba, minister of the interior, said Saturday night.
Air traffic controllers were protesting against a new limitation on their overtime hours which from now on will be limited to 1,670 per year, or an average of 32 hours per week, and against the end of early retirement at fifty-two years of age. These decisions were made within the context of the privatization of up to 49% of the airport management organization (Aena). According to David Zamit, spokesman for the flight controllers unions, this limit prevents controllers from taking paternity or sick leave out of their work hours.
At the beginning of the year the government had already reduced the number of overtime hours, which are paid at triple the usual wage. According to the Minister of Transport, the 2,300 flight controllers have had their average annual salary reduced from 334,000 Euros to 200,000 Euros. The minister, Jose Blanco Lopez, justified the action by saying, “It is intolerable that a public enterprise pays millionaire salaries to its employees” while Spain undergoes a grave economic crisis. The ex-strikers received the support of the French Air Traffic Controllers Union (SNCTA). “The Spanish flight controllers have lived for three long months in a climate of terror, under the menace of permanent layoffs, after a 40% drop in salary.” For their part the SNCTA said: “Whatever the motives or the form of this social conflict, it is inadmissible that a democracy permits itself to resolve any conflict by instituting an emergency law that threatens the strikers with prison.”