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Strike at Barcelona airport continues after talks fail on Sunday

Catalan and Spanish governments clash over the chaos at the infrastructure owned and managed by Madrid

07 August 2017 02:25 PM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

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Barcelona Airport will test the patience of Catalan holidaymakers and tourists coming from all over the world for at least a few more days. The staff at its security checkpoints are determined to go on with their strike to get better job conditions after the talks which had continued on Sunday reached a further impasse. Eulen, the company in charge of security, had offered a €155 increase to the lowest monthly wages and the hiring of 21 new employees, but workers rejected the proposal, as they push to get a €350 pay raise.

Who is to blame for the chaos?

They are set for further partial strikes this Monday, Friday and Sunday, and holiday-goers will have to pray for successful talks in the coming days –otherwise the employees will go on an indefinite strike beginning August 14. Passengers have stood in lines for up to three hours in the past two weeks at security checkpoints and some have missed their flights as a result, but who is to blame for this chaos is not clear. Different actors play their role, including Eulen, its employees, but also the Catalan and the Spanish governments, with the political debate over the referendum on independence as a backdrop.

Who owns and manages Barcelona Airport?

Most airports in Spain are owned and managed by the government in Madrid through the public company Aena and despite claims by some parties, Barcelona-El Prat is not an exception. Thus it was Aena who decided to outsource security at the airport and who appointed Eulen in June 2016 for a period of two years. The Catalan government has no power over airport policy. It only owns some airfields and two minor airports in Lleida and La Seu d’Urgell. However, it does have responsibility in labor mediation for conflicts taking place in Catalonia.

Further clash between the Catalan and Spanish governments

The strike, which has made the headlines of even some international media, has prompted a further clash between the Spanish and Catalan governments. While Barcelona claims that Spanish President Mariano Rajoy's cabinet did not take action quickly enough since Aena waited for 12 days of queues before taking part in the talks, Madrid countered by saying that the Catalan government is “obsessed” against them.

The public company rejected participating in the negotiations during the first days on the grounds that it was an internal issue of Eulen but said that it was still working on lowering the wait time for passengers at security checkpoints. Yet it only joined the talks on August 4, after workers announced the indefinite strike beginning August 14. At the same time, the Catalan government called the first mediation meeting with Eulen and its employees on the second day of the chaos, on July 25. A spokesperson for Spanish ruling party, Partido Popular, not only rejected the blame for Rajoy this Monday, but also said that the mediation by Barcelona had been a failure until Aena sat down at the negotiating table.

Pro-independence campaigners in the airport

The dispute between administrations comes just a few days before the final clash over the independence referendum in Catalonia is expected to take place. The Catalan government has set October 1 as the date for the vote, which it is organizing despite Madrid’s opposition. Rajoy's cabinet and the Spanish Constitutional Court have even threatened with taking criminal action if more steps to ensure the plebiscite are taken. This Monday the main pro-independence civil organization, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), campaigned at the airport security checkpoints amid the queues of holiday-makers. The action highlighted that “Spain is the only country in the world where a ministry manages 46 airports in a centralized way”.

Employees claim some of them earn €900 while working 16-hour shifts

The issue has come to the fore with the involvement of the Catalan and Spanish governments, but it also has a labor side. One of the strike committee spokespeople, Genoveva Sierra, claimed that the lowest-paid employees earn a monthly salary of €900 and that the service in Barcelona Airport is understaffed, so they are under pressure to work marathon days of up to 16 hours. She claimed that the security workers cannot take breaks because “there is not enough staff and the extra staff brought in are not trained well enough to operate the scanning machinery.” Eulen spokesperson Lorena Ibáñez said that there had been good progress in the last meeting on Sunday. The talks continue this Monday while passengers wait for up to one hour at the security checkpoints. 

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  • Long queues at Barcelona airport security checkpoint

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