Spanish military may replace absent air traffic controllers

20th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain said Tuesday it could deploy the military to replace Barcelona air traffic controllers on sick leave, in a bid to curb flight delays and undermine what it suspects is an undercover strike.

Staff on sick leave in Barcelona's control centre had fallen slightly to 32 percent on Tuesday from 36 percent on Monday, Transport Minister Jose Blanco said to Cadena Ser radio.

"In exceptional situations we will employ aerial military controllers to guarantee aviation traffic in our country," the minister said. "We are obliged to take alternative measures."

The minister also said there would be an investigation into the sick leave taken in the past few days by almost half the air traffic control staff at the control centre in Barcelona.

He raised the possibility of an undercover strike, saying he suspected the absences followed "a strategy" and could be "an infringement of law."

The situation seemed to have improved Tuesday morning, Spain's airport and air traffic authority Aena told AFP. "There are no more absent controllers than usual, it is a normal day for the moment," said a spokesman.

The number of days taken off by staff due to illness, union-related activities and for unjustified reasons have tripled in the past few months, according to Aena.

The Air Traffic Controllers Union said in a statement that it was not behind the high rate of absences.

"It does not make sense to resort to pressure tactics, even less in a secretive way," the head of the union Camilo Cesa said.

In February the Spanish government put an end to what it described as the "incomprehensible privileges" of air traffic controllers, including their high rates of pay and benefits.

At the beginning of this month, the air traffic controllers union and Aena resumed negotiations over a collective agreement.

The staff shortages have affected the airports in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands that include tourist hot-spots Majorca and Ibiza, and the Valencia region.

© 2010 AFP

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