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Zapatero vows to extend state of alert to avoid more air controller strikes

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-09

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to extend a state of alert as long as necessary to avoid a repeat of the December 3rd wildcat air controllers' strike. It was the first state of alert in Spain since 1975.

AFP - Spain's prime minister vowed Thursday to extend a state of alert if necessary to prevent a repeat of a 24-hour wildcat air traffic controllers' strike.

Air traffic controllers called in sick en masse December 3 in a dispute over working hours, shutting down Spain's airspace at the start of a long holiday weekend and affecting an estimated 300,000 travellers.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government forced them to return the next day by declaring a 15-day state of alert, putting the military in command and threatening jail time for those who refused orders.

It was the first state of alert in Spain since the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

"We will not be in a state of alert one day more nor one day less than required so that this country's citizens can travel without being blackmailed by air traffic controllers," he told parliament.

The prime minister defended his decision to call the state of alert in the parliamentary debate.

"No-one, neither individually nor collectively, can take the citizens as a whole as hostages to their claims," Zapatero told parliament.

"The government will not hesitate to use, without ignoring the requirements of proportionality, all the instruments of rule of law to end situations such the one we experienced at the weekend."

Zapatero said 190 air force officials had been deployed to Spain's air traffic control towers and more than 2,000 police dispatched to airports to boost security for passengers.

Air traffic controllers had acted in "open rebellion" against the rule of law, he said. "It was an affront to the constitutional order and as such it had to be confronted."

Spain's airport authority AENA has opened disciplinary proceedings against 442 controllers.

Centre-right daily El Mundo said Monday the government hoped to extend the state of alert for two months so as to train military personnel to take over the jobs of dismissed controllers.

The government has accused air traffic controllers of defending "intolerable privileges".

According to the transport ministry, there are 2,300 air traffic controllers in Spain earning an average 200,000 euros a year.

In February the government cut back controllers' overtime to a maximum 80 hours a year, slicing into paypackets that had bulged with overtime pay of two-three times the normal rate of 117 euros an hour.

Previously, controllers had earned an average of more than 300,000 euros, with 135 of them taking home more than 600,000 euros a year and 713 between 360,000 and 540,000 euros a year, ministry figures showed.

The weekend strike coincided with a government ruling Friday saying the maximum time worked by air traffic controllers is 1,670 hours a year -- 32 hours a week -- but that this excludes non-aeronautical work.

A spokesman for the Syndicate Union of Air Controllers said this meant time taken for paternity or sick leave would not count within the maximum working hours.

Date created : 2010-12-09


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