Airport workers agree job security deal

Unions signed a seven-year deal with the Spanish Airport Company AENA on 25 March, to guarantee job security for 11,000 workers (excluding air traffic controllers). The unions had feared potential redundancies when it was officially decreed in December that the country’s airport network would be privatised. However, they called off a threat of 22 days of strike action, coinciding with peak holiday periods, after concluding the agreement, which will be in force until 2018.

Privatisation of airport management

Public-capital enterprise Aena Aeropuertos S.A. was created by Royal-Decree 13/2010 of 3 December (ES1012021I). It replaces the public Spanish Airport Company, AENA, and will be in charge of the management and exploitation of the public airport network, previously managed by AENA. However, the area of competences of air navigation will continue to be held by AENA, which will keep a 51% share at least of the business.

The conditions of the privatisation deal were settled by the Spanish cabinet in February 2011. According to the government’s plan, the first phase will encompass the privatisation of air traffic control at Alicante, Valencia, Sabadell, Ibiza, Jerez, Seville, Melilla, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, A Coruña, Vigo and Cuatro Vientos by means of concessions given by Aena Aeropuertos S.A. to private companies. The privatisation of air traffic control at the remaining airports, including the airports of Madrid and Barcelona, will be implemented in 2012.

Industrial conflict: unions call for strikes

Unions representing airport workers, the General Workers Confederation (UGT), the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and the Workers Trade Union Confederation (USO), feared privatisation would lead to redundancies and the worsening of the working conditions laid out by the existing collective agreement with AENA. This agreement covers about 11,000 workers, excluding air traffic controllers, who have their own agreement, recently concluded by an arbitration procedure after months of strikes (legal and illegal) and tension with the Ministry of Public Works. The unions called for 22 days of strike action between 20 April and 15 August. The dates were strategically chosen to coincide with peak holiday periods.

Unions and AENA reach an agreement

Faced with the threat of the strike, AENA intensified the negotiations with the unions in order to avoid problems for the tourism industry. As a result, on 16 March the unions and AENA reached a preliminary agreement which committed the government to guarantee the permanence of all staff, and to safeguard their working conditions after privatisation. This agreement was subject to approval by AENA staff and a final agreement was announced on 25 March. The most significant feature of the agreement was that the Fifth Collective Agreement of AENA will become the First Collective Agreement of Aena Aeropuertos S.A. It will also apply to any subsidiary companies that may be established and to those companies holding concessions. The agreement will be in force until 2018. AENA has also pledged to serve on the governing board of any future companies holding the concessions for Madrid and Barcelona airports in order to monitor the implementation of the agreement, which was supported in a referendum by 70% of the staff of AENA.

Commentary

The importance of the tourism industry to the Spanish economy partly explains the efforts made by the Ministry of Public Works and AENA to avoid the strikes. However, although UGT and CCOO have objected to the privatisation of AENA, they consider that they have reached a satisfactory agreement to safeguard their members’ working conditions.

Pablo Sanz De Miguel, CIREM

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