Havoc reigns as Iberia staff strikes
Iberia employees this morning kicked off the day with an 8km march outside Madrid Barajas Airport culminating in clashes with the police during which protestors were beaten with truncheons.
The workers, including baggage handlers and air stewards, demonstrated outside and inside Barajas Airport Terminal 4 which is the airline’s main hub in Madrid, on the first day of a weeklong strike over more than 3,800 pending job cuts at Spain’s flagship airline Iberia.
The staff plans to hold three five-day strikes in February and March to protest management plans to axe jobs and cut salaries, with the two following strikes planned for March 4 to March 8 and March 18 to March 22. Workers will also hold a street protest in central Madrid on Wednesday evening and another demonstration at the airport on Friday.
Iberia has cancelled 415 flights between Monday and Friday, 80 of which today, however a total of around 1,200 flights operated by various airlines will be grounded because of the lack of handling services at Spanish airports. Spain's transport ministry has guaranteed skeleton services to cover the strike and Iberia said 90% of long-haul flights would take off and the worst affected will be domestic services. It is estimated that 70,000 passengers willbe affected just by the first strike, whilst analysts argue that the total 15 days of strikes will cost Iberia between €50m and €100m.
Due to this week’s industrial action Iberia scrapped 415 flights across Spain and Europe operating just 135 flights today with the strike's effect rippling to other airlines. Iberia Express cancelled 20 flights today alone, regional carrier Air Nostrum cut another 57 and Vueling cancelled 354 flights over five days with 78 cancellations just for today.
Today’s industrial action coincides with school holidays in Britain and led to Spain’s Transport Minister Ana Pastor pleading the airline and unions to strike a deal and spare the country further financial damage of more than €10 million daily. Tourism is one of Spain's few growth sectors in a prolonged recession that has pushed the unemployment rate above 26%.
Iberia is just one of several companies in Spain planning to lay off workers. Other companies include Vodafone and Bankia, which was bailed out. In 2011, Iberia merged with profitable British Airways and formed the International Airlines Group (IAG) however has reported a losses of €262m in the first nine months of 2012. The company is currently battling low cost operators, a worsening domestic economy and restructured competition. Company executives held that the airline hit €850 million in losses between 2008 and September 2012. This year Iberia aims to cut its capacity by 15% eliminating some routes to Latin America and reducing 25 aircrafts, including five long-haul jets.
IAG announced that it plans to axe 3,800 jobs at Iberia but said is still open to talks with unions during a formal 30-day consultation process.
In a statement Iberia said 85% of passengers were put on replacement flights and the other 15% were reimbursed.