Spanish air controllers set to decide on strike

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The union representing Spain's air traffic controllers said it will meet Tuesday to decide whether to go ahead with a threatened strike, which could disrupt flights at the peak of the tourist season.

"We want to remove the uncertainty in the tourism industry and among passengers" over the threatened strike, said Cesar A. Cap, the head of communications at the Union of Air Traffic Controllers (USCA).

He said the union had therefore decided to move up a meeting of its executive committee initially scheduled for Thursday to 5:00pm (1500 GMT) on Tuesday.

The timetable means any walkout would not take place until at least August 20 as the union must give a 10-day warning of strike action.

Spanish air traffic controllers voted by an overwhelming majority on August 3 to strike over government changes to their working conditions.

On Friday they broke off negotiations with the state-run airport management authority, AENA.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Tuesday called on the controllers to make a decision "as soon as possible" on whether they to call a strike, which he said has already caused "uncertainty" and "negative effects."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also urged AENA and the controllers to take "all measures possible" to avoid strike action, which would damage the country's key tourist industry.

It called on the controllers to accept AENA's offer of arbitration.

"This is not the time for strikes," IATA's Director General Giovanni Bisignani was quoted as saying in a statement from the Geneva-based association.

"Arbitration is a fair, open and balanced means to settle the differences between AENA and the air traffic controllers. And it would avoid debilitating disruption to Spain's economy...

"With 20 percent unemployment, Spain cannot be a spectator. The economy is weak and it can ill afford the devastating effects of an air traffic control strike on Spanish business, especially tourism," said Bisignani.

Exceltur, an association that represents more than 20 major travel industry groups in Spain, warned at the weekend it may take legal action against the controllers if they proceed with the walkout.

The controllers are angry over a government decree on working conditions announced last month which would reduce rest periods and cut generous overtime benefits.

The government has called the "millionaire salaries" enjoyed by the controllers "incomprehensible privileges" at a time when the country is undergoing belt-tightening.

It has introduced tough austerity measures this year to rein in a public deficit that hit 11.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 as the country emerges from a recession that began in late 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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