LABOR DISPUTE

Police charge protesting workers at Barajas airport as strikes begin

Other airlines also affected by stoppage causing hundreds of flights to be canceled

Strikers of Spanish airline Iberia clash with baton-wielding police at Madrid-Barajas airport on Monday.
Strikers of Spanish airline Iberia clash with baton-wielding police at Madrid-Barajas airport on Monday.PEDRO ARMESTRE (AFP)

Police charged protesting Iberia ground staff and cabin crew at Madrid Barajas airport on Monday as they kicked off a series of five one-day stoppages this week in response to the carrier’s plan to lay off some 3,800 workers.

Iberia has been forced to cancel 415 flights this week, about 40 percent of those scheduled. The stoppages have also had a knock-on effect at other carriers such as Vueling, Iberia Express and Air Nostrum, which rely on Iberia for handling services, causing the cancelation of a further 807 flights.

Further stoppages are planned for the periods March 4-8 and March 18-22.

Protesters blocked access to Barajas airport in the morning, with some 3,000 to 4,000 of them rushing into Terminal 4 building shouting “Iberia’s not for sale,” causing employees at counters operated by Iberia, British Airways and Vueling to leave their posts, and forcing travelers to form long lines to obtain boarding passes from machines.

Employees at Iberia, British Airways and Vueling were forced to leave their posts

Police were assisted in trying to control the situation by civil guards and customs officials carrying riot gear. They eventually managed to take charge of the situation by 2pm allowing airline staff to return to their posts.

Protesting workers also drove vehicles slowly past the accesses to the airport, leading Iberia to recommend that passengers to use the subway or suburban trains.

Barcelona’s El Prat airport was also heavily policed, with long lines forming at Iberia and Vueling counters, mostly to obtain refunds for canceled flights or alternative flights. Some 50 striking Iberia workers were present at the airport. Some passengers complained that had not been informed that their flights had been canceled. There were also protestors at other airports across Spain.

Labor unions claimed that the strike had been adhered to by 100 percent of the workers not detailed to provide minimum services.

A total of 236 flights were canceled on Monday. Of these, 81 were Iberia flights, 20 Iberia Express, 78 Vueling and 57 Air Nostrum. Iberia said of the some 70,000 would-be passengers affected by cancelations, it had managed to find seats for 60,000 on flights with other airlines, while the remaining 10,000 had asked for refunds.

International Airlines Group (IAG), the holding company for the merger of Iberia and British Airways, claims the layoffs, which cover 19 percent of Iberia’s workforce, are necessary to restore the Spanish carrier to profitability. Iberia lost 850 million euros between 2008 and September of last year, including 262 million in the first nine months of 2012.

IAG also plans to reduce Iberia’s flight capacity by 15 percent this year and wants employees to accept wage cuts.

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