Emergency Decree Will Prevent Further Air Travel Chaos in Spain

PlaneAfter the 24-hour wildcat air traffic controllers’ strike that put a hold to almost all air traffic in Spain over the weekend, Spain’s prime minister has said his government may extend an emergency decree it put in place that swiftly ended the protest.

The emergency measures had not been seen since military rule and this state of alert allows the government to arrest those who refuse to work.

Flights have now returned to normal after the strike which disrupted hundreds of thousands of journeys. Officials said 250,000 people were hit by Saturday’s walkout, amid a long-running dispute about working hours.

“The government has issued a decree for a period of a state of alert to ensure normality,” which is due to continue for 15 days, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

“Depending on how the situation develops, the government will take the decision to extend the measure, and will of course do it taking public opinion into consideration and in conjunction with political parties.” Threats of further strikes over the Christmas and New Year period would thus be quashed by the government, reports say.

The controllers’ unsanctioned action began on Friday afternoon in Madrid, with staff calling in sick. It spread across the nation, forcing travellers to find last-minute hotel rooms or sleep on airport floors. Some passengers were taken by coach to their destinations.

Spain’s air traffic controllers earned an average of €350,000 last year, with the biggest earner receiving €900,000. Thirty others earned more than €720,000, and 130 more earned above €600,000. Their contracts stipulated a working year of 1,000 hours, which most of them topped up with a further 600 hours of overtime, paid at triple rate. They are now being obliged to work 1,600 hours at a normal wage, which still gives them an annual salary of €200,000. The controllers were already in dispute about this change to their working hours, but were further angered by austerity measures passed by the government on Friday as Spain tries to cut its budget deficit.