On Monday 16th September 2019, Spanish union Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), called on all Iberia ground-staff for an eight-day strike. The move comes in protest of the airline’s supposed unilateral decision to suspend collective agreement negotiations. Here, we examine the labor tensions and the proposed strike.
In the mid-2010s Iberia faced significant financial difficulties, leading the airline to restructure. Under the plan, the airline downsized its staff, fleet, and routes. Further, in a bid to manage costs, the airline created a low-cost subsidiary, Iberia Express.
During the restructuring, in 2014, unions agreed to considerable salary reductions and new working conditions for Iberia staff. Commenting on the negotiations, Luis Gallego, Iberia Chairman and CEO was quoted in 2014 saying,
“We have seen how the sacrifices, good will and common sense of all parties were essential to leaving behind the years of conflict, and beginning to rebuild Iberia’s future.” – Luis Gallego, Iberia Chairman and CEO of Iberia.
Come 2018, however, Iberia performance had significantly improved. Owner IAG announced €3,678m before-tax operating profit. Further, the holding company stated a 13.2% return on invested capital at the Spanish airline.
Speaking on the 2018 financial results, Luis Gallego stated that “revenue performance was strong, passenger unit revenues and load factors were up across the business.”
Indeed, not only did the airline achieve significant revenue and seat-capacity growth but also saw expansion throughout the Americas and introduced the Airbus A350.
Considering a major shift in business results, unions have called on the airline to improve general working conditions.
“The union made an enormous exercise of responsibility in the previous agreement, signed wage cuts and conditions of all workers, and made for the survival of Iberia and all its business lines.” – UGT press release
In mid-August 2019, UGT called on Iberia ground staff at Barcelona’s El Prat airport to strike after negotiations with the airline broke down.
Although the strikes were later canceled, El Pais writes that Iberia’s management temporarily suspended collective negotiation agreements on the 5th of September.
The airline reportedly considered that parties could no longer negotiate under the principle of good faith with the possibility of strikes hovering over it.
Calls for nationwide ground-staff strike
According to La Opinion Coruna, on the 9th of September, UGT notified Iberia of a possible conflict. The Union reportedly gave the airline an ultimatum, asking it to return to the negotiation table, or face a strike.
As the deadline passed, UGT has summoned 4,500 UGT represented Iberia ground-staff to strike for eight days, on every Monday from the 30th of September until the 18th of November.
UGT has additionally called upon other union-represented Iberia employees to join the industrial action.
El Pais reports that Iberia has approximately 13,000 ground staff, covering various occupations. Although UGT only represents 4,500 employees, the union claims to be the most significant Iberia employee representative group.
As a matter of procedure, Iberia and UGT will be called before the Mediation and Arbitration Service, SIMA (Servicio Interconfederal de Mediación y Arbitraje).
Should the parties be unable to come to an agreement before the arbitrator, UGT strikes could ensue.
Iberia said it did not wish to comment on this matter. UGT and IAG did not respond to Simple Flying’s invitation to comment.
How do you think Iberia and IAG will respond to industrial action calls? Could recent developments at British Airways strengthen UGT’s bargaining position? Do you think the strike is unjustified? Let us know in the comments?