Barcelona Airport Strike Continues (and Threatens to Spread Nationwide)

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As we commented back in July (access here), Barcelona airport security check personnel called for industrial action on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays from August 1 onwards to denounce low wages and staffing/training deficiencies to properly manage the airport’s security checkpoints.

Well, two weeks into the strike and with waiting times of 30 to 45 minutes as a permanent baseline, with peak waiting times of 2+ hours during the industrial action slots, there seems to be no agreement between the parts, and things may take a turn for the worse next week.

A little context on this strike in case you arrived late

Barcelona airport security check staff (basically the personnel staffing x-ray scanners and metal detectors) started covert strikes back in July and a partial strike from August 1 onwards (covering certain hour ranges on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays) to complain about low wages, long working hours due to understaffing, and lack of proper training to operate the x-ray machines.

What makes this strike so complex to deal with?

What on the surface may look like any other industrial action called by a union, is actually a lot more complex situation that makes it difficult to deal with.

The union’s main claim can be summarized in a few lines: since AENA (the Spanish airport operator) went through a privatization process amid the Euro crisis (49% of the capital now belongs to private investors), the company’s outsourcing contracts (as the security check contract, for example) have been signed at discount prices. These discounts have trickled-down to labor, meaning low wages and understaffing.

At the beginning of it all, AENA’s position was that it was a conflict between a sub-contractor and their employees, trying to avoid any responsibility in the solution of the issue. They paid for a service, they expected that service. But the union was not having any of it and refused to even start conversations with the sub-contractor if AENA was not part of those conversations. This ordeal delayed conversations by a week at least.

On top of that, this is Catalonia and everything is political: AENA’s controlling stakeholder is the Spanish state (51% of the shares) and the regional government has not missed the opportunity to blame the central government of the situation, while the central government tries to escape ownership responsibilities by  shifting blame to the Catalan government as politically responsible of looking for a solution. Of course what they are all talking implicitly about is the independence referendum the Catalan government called for October 1st. Let’s say that on both sides there is people willing to let the whole thing burn in flames just to make a point.

What is the situation right now?

It is complex. Today, the union voted no on an offer by the sub-contractor as they considered it not sufficient. From El País (access here)

On Thursday, security staff at Barcelona’s El Prat airport rejected a solution to their dispute over pay and conditions proposed by the regional government of Catalonia.

Employees of Eulen voted on a deal that was accepted both by Eulen and AENA, the Spanish airports authority.

The offer included a significant increase in personnel, including adding a fifth guard in every security line. It also raised the salary increase to an average of 11%, which comes to a raise of up to €200 per month. So far, the company had only offered €150, with the workers committee asking for €350.

Negotiations will now continue: there will be partial stoppages over the weekend, and from Monday, unless a solution is found, an indefinite strike will be called.

The union is now calling for a total strike starting August 14. The central government, as the ultimate responsible of the safe operations of airport terminals throughout the country, is considering deploying the Military Police (Guardia Civil) to take over the security controls if a total strike takes effect. From El País:

Meanwhile, the Spanish government said on Thursday that it would “take all necessary measures” to guarantee “security and public order” at El Prat to mitigate the impact of the continued strike action there.

Public Works Minister Íñigo de la Serna said he had convened an emergency committee for today, Friday, in Barcelona that would be attended by Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido, the president of AENA, José Manuel Vargas, senior representatives of Barcelona airport and the central government’s delegate to Catalonia. He added that the option of using the Civil Guard to carry out security duties would be on the table.

And what does it mean for the passengers?

Long lines, that is all you get.

 The worst part: it could spread nationwide

AENA owns and operates the vast majority of airports in Spain, and sub-contracts the security tasks in all of them, which could lead to think there may be staff at other airports working under similar conditions/contracts taking a close look on all that is happening in Barcelona. Reports of industrial action nationwide are starting to show up. From El País:

Security staff at A Coruña who are employed by Eulen are demanding a pay increase and an end to extending the afternoon shift. In Santiago, where staff are employed by Prosegur, the call is for a minimum six-hour payment for staff working shorter shifts.

At Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez-Barajas Airport, some members of the security staff have set up their own association, and have said they will call stoppages. The dispute could spread to other areas that are subcontracted out, such as cleaning services.

AENA itself also faces the possibility of strike action, with labor unions threatening 24-hour stoppages at airports throughout the country from September 15 if management does not start talks on improving pay and conditions before August 16.

Conclusion

Things are not looking good. I have a flight ex-BCN next week and I am seriously considering to rebook it ex-MAD and take the high-speed train to MAD.

In case you are flying out of BCN this week, prepare to arrive to the airport in advance (3 to 4 hours would be the recommended. Remember that If you have to check luggage, check-in counters open 3 hours before departure time anyway.

If you lose a flight due to the security lines EC 261/2004 protections do not apply, as it is not the airline’s fault. In this case, AENA is the ultimate responsible and all claims should be directed to them.

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  • Dogmatick

    There is a separate side scanning area for parents with very young children. Does anyone know if this part is affected too. Keeping a one year old in a pram in a queue is bordering on impossible and I’m flying out of BCN next month.
    Hopefully as it is a Wednesday it won’t be as badly affected

    • As far as I know, the family lane is operating.

      • Dogmatick

        That’s kind of you to respond, thank you

    • I can fully confirm that both the priority fast track lane and the family with children/strollers lane are both operating. I just used the fast track lane with no issues.