In a move which could cause chaos over the peak summer season, members of the Spanish Union of Air Traffic Controllers (USCA) have voted to strike over proposals to reduce pay.
Some 98 per cent of the 2,200 air traffic controllers balloted voted to strike, with the Spanish government also proposing to reduce hours.
Strike dates are expected to be confirmed later this week. However, unions are obliged to give ten days notice ahead of any industrial action, meaning the earliest possible date falls in mid-August – peak season for Spanish travel.
Controllers are employed by state-run airport management firm AENA, with contracts stipulating a 1,000 hour working year for each employee.
However, many work up to 600 hours in overtime – which is paid at triple rate.
Under the new rules approved by the government, controllers are now obliged to work 1,600 hours at a normal wage, reducing the annual salary from €350,000 to €200,000.
Remuneration in the sector caused a minor scandal in January this year, when some controllers were found to be earning more than €800,000 annually.
The USCA said a strike was “the only alternative to denounce their labour conditions and, consequently, air traffic security”.
In response transport minister Jose Blanco said he saw “no reason” for a strike and called on the controllers to adopt the new rules “without delay”.
He vowed to maintain minimum services during the walkout.
Pointing out in other EU countries the military can ensure air transport continues to operate, even during strikes, by providing vital services such as air traffic control, Ryanair called on the Spanish government to resolve the situation.
“Air transport and tourism is vital to the Spanish economy and the government must ensure that Spanish airports remain open during strikes by calling on the military to provide air traffic control services,” said Ryanair’s Steve McNamara.
“While air traffic controllers have the right to strike, these actions should not be allowed to disrupt the travel plans of millions of Spanish citizens or visitors.”
Spain presently has the third highest public finance deficit in Europe, behind only Greece and Ireland, with the figure hitting 11.2 per cent of GDP last year.
In response the government introduced tough austerity measures earlier this year designed to rein in a public deficit, leaving the exorbitantly paid air traffic controllers somewhat isolated.