Spanish air controllers to decide on strike this week

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The union representing Spain's air traffic controllers will meet Thursday to decide whether to go ahead with a strike over working conditions, a union member said.

This means any walkout, which could disrupt flights at the peak of the tourist season, would not take place until at least August 22 as the union must give a formal 10-day warning of strike action.

Spanish air traffic controllers voted by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday to strike over government changes to their working hours that reduce overtime pay.

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

"On Thursday will have a meeting of our executive committee which will take some decisions," a source at the Union of Air Traffic Controllers (USCA) said on Sunday.

"We still hope that it will not be necessary to call a strike and we can reach an agreement with" AENA.

Transport Minister Jose Blanco warned Sunday of "serious damage to the economy and tourism of our country" if the strike goes ahead.

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

It urged them to accept AENA's offer of arbitration to resolve the dispute.

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 of austerity to slash Spain's public deficit, the eurozone's third-highest after Greece and Ireland.

It 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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