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Strikers disrupt money-losing Iberia

A total of 70,000 Iberia passengers are expected to be affected by the strike this week

Gulf News

New York: Striking ground workers and flight attendants for Iberia, the money-losing Spanish airline, clashed with riot police officers at Madrid-Barajas Airport on Monday, the first day of three weeks of work stoppages intended to protest a plan to eliminate more than 3,800 jobs.

Despite a robust police blockade, several hundred of the roughly 8,000 protesters managed to enter Terminal 4 — Iberia’s main operating hub at the airport — creating additional chaos and frustration there for many passengers who had already been forced to wait for delayed flights. The police arrested five Iberia employees, but the protest did not result in any significant damage within or outside the terminal.

The demonstration, which airline officials said lasted little more than an hour, was the latest episode in a dispute between unions and Iberia’s London-based parent, International Airlines Group, which warned in November that the airline was in a “fight for survival” and had no choice but to make drastic cuts.

A total of 70,000 Iberia passengers are expected to be affected by the strike this week, of whom 60,000 were rebooked on alternative flights, at the airline’s expense, as of Friday. The remaining 10,000 were to receive refunds, the airline said.

Unions representing Iberia ground staff and flight attendants announced plans to strike from February 18 to 22; March 4 to 8; and March 18 to 22. The airline’s pilots were expected to join the strike beginning March 4.

Juan said Iberia expected the level of flight disruption to be roughly the same for each five-day strike period. He said it was too early to estimate the final cost of the labour actions to the airline.

The retrenchments at Iberia are the latest among Europe’s full-service carriers as they struggle to compete with leaner low-cost rivals in Europe, as well as with fast-growing Gulf-based airlines like Emirates and Etihad on long-distance routes. The effects of a slowing economy combined with high fuel costs have exacerbated the airlines’ woes.

Air France and Lufthansa of Germany announced plans to eliminate a combined 8,600 jobs as part of their own multibillion-euro restructuring efforts.

IAG, which also owns British Airways, had originally envisioned staff reductions of 4,500 or more at Iberia, which says it is currently burning through nearly €2 million (Dh9.7 million) a day. The company said last week that it would press ahead with eliminating 3,807 jobs over the next 30 days after its offer to limit the cuts to around 3,100 — in exchange for salary cuts of between 11 per cent and 23 per cent — was rejected last month by unions.

Spain’s deepening recession and fierce competition from budget competitors like easyJet and Ryanair have left Iberia struggling to restore profitability. In addition to the staff cuts, Iberia is cutting capacity by 15 per cent, eliminating a number of unprofitable routes to cities like Athens, Cairo, Istanbul and Havana.