BARELY days after unions had announced that they would not be calling strikes for Spanish airline Iberia’s ground staff, the stoppages are back on. The UGT and CCOO unions have announced that workers will be downing tools across the country from January 5 to 8. 

The move comes after talks between those unions and the former Spanish flag carrier broke down. The strikes will coincide with the Kings Day holiday, which falls on January 6, and is a period when many passengers will be travelling through Spanish airports. 

Stoppages were previously announced for the December 29-31 period too, but on December 21 the unions announced that they were postponing those days on the basis that talks between the two sides were progressing and that the Spanish government was due to mediate. 

CDG baggage claim area
Ground staff are responsible for activities such as baggage handling.

On Saturday, news agency EFE reported that a third union, USO, had also announced that it would be joining the stoppages between January 5 and 8 for its Iberia ground staff. 

Ground staff are responsible for activities such as baggage check-in, meaning that the industrial action could have had a major effect on anyone travelling with Iberia, or indeed any flights from other airlines that were being operated by the the former flag carrier such as British Airways, which is part of the same parent group, IAG. 

The conflict began back in September when Iberia lost its licences to provide ground handling services in eight Spanish airports, including Barcelona, Malaga, Alicante and Gran Canaria. 

Under the terms of their collective agreements, these Iberia ground staff will have to be transferred to the companies who successfully won the licences. 

These workers fear, however, that they will lose their current salaries and other working conditions and are calling instead for Iberia to resort to ‘autohandling’ – i.e. using an internal company to offer these services. 

Iberia is arguing that such an option is not economically viable. But in the negotiations the option of a ‘mixed’ service had been mooted, according to Spanish daily El Pais

This would see a new company created, with the new licence holder having an 80% stake and a minority group from IAG, called Yellow Handling, taking the remaining 20%. 

In a statement reported by Spanish daily El Pais, Iberia lamented the fact that the unions had broken off negotiations and called the January stoppages. The airline also said that ‘autohandling would be impossible’, given that it would mean a loss of competitivity with its competitors and would cause a ‘definitive blow to the future of the ground service business’. 

After the breakdown of the talks, Iberia said it would no longer be considering the hybrid model and will only now discuss the transfer of its ground staff to third companies. 

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