A new crisis looms in the management of the airline’s ground handling service, which transports suitcases from planes to terminals. New because they are periodic, in an activity that depends on public tenders – carried out by Aena – and provided by private operators. The sector still remembers the mobilization of 2006, when Iberia ground workers occupied the runways of Barcelona’s El Prat airport, forcing the cancellation or diversion of more than 500 flights and launching legal proceedings. Four years later, a Barcelona court sentenced 27 employees of 23 airlines to 2 years in prison for trespassing on the runways of Barcelona Airport.
“Now we are not in such a situation,” the trade union sources point out. Today’s scenario is different, but the discomfort on the part of the squads is similar.
The reason is the result of the latest Handling Contest, where IAG – the parent group of Iberia, Iberia Express, Vueling or Level – lost its license at some of the main airports in Spain. He keeps him at Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas, but will be without him at Barcelona, Mallorca, Malaga, Alicante, Gran Canaria, Tenerife South, Ibiza and Bilbao from next spring. It beats other airports, but they are smaller.
In particular, in the five largest Spanish airports (Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga and Palma) there are three companies that provide service. Until now one of them was IAG (via Iberia). In the following airports, depending on the number of flights and passengers, there are two operators; and one in the smallest. Among them are cities such as Valladolid, A Coruña or Vigo. And it is the latter that Iberia will keep. On the other hand, other local companies such as Groundforce (Globalia) and international companies such as Aviapartner (SAS), Swissport or Menzies are gaining weight.
What happens to Iberia employees – and other companies – at airports where operators change? That the companies awarded the contracts will have to change the templates with the same economic conditions, but not the social ones. At the same time, trade union representatives fear that their economic situation will decrease in the medium and long term.
“The outcome of the competition left us all confused. No one thought that Iberia would lose its licenses because it got them after it was liberalized,” explains Isabel Rubio, Secretary of Union Action of the USO-Air Sector. Liberalization that ended in 2006. “We are talking about five airports that historically belonged to Iberia,” Paloma Gallardo Varona, secretary of the CCOO Iberia State Section, points in the same direction. “Iberia’s workers are loyal to the brand, the house, not the management,” he explains.
At this time, staff representatives estimate that approximately 3,000 Iberia employees will have to change companies at this subrogation rate.
“Neither we nor the operators thought that this could happen, because we believe that the companies made the offers thinking that they did not have to lose 3,000 employees to Iberia,” asserts Chema Pérez-Grand, state head of the UGT Air Sector. . “We’re talking about companies that can’t pass on the increases” to the airlines they charge, in an activity where “80% of the cost is labor.”
From there, there is a fear of how the subrogation will be carried out, although it is still a few months away and there are many steps ahead, because it is still possible that the outcome of the court will have resources. “We are very concerned about the stability and condition of the troops,” said the CCOO representative.
In a scenario where there is subrogation, employees who move from one company to another, whatever it may be, must retain economic terms but not social benefits.
For starters, there is a sectoral agreement signed in 2022 that provides for an 11% wage increase over four years. Based on this, companies can increase economic and social conditions. Regarding the first, they claim that there are no big fluctuations between the companies, although they are slightly better in Iberia. It is in social benefits where there are differences. They cite, for example, free or discounted airline ticket packages that have not been negotiated with Iberia employees and will be forfeited in the event of subrogation. Also, loans for buying houses, help for education or children with chronic diseases.
In the long term, unions say they fear the terms of a future deal could be pushed back. The reason, they say, is that Iberia will lose weight in terms of business representation, which could determine the course of negotiations.
So far, Aena has already asked the companies, at a meeting last Friday, to uphold the subrogation for the full term of the licenses – seven years, as agreed. He also recalls that before the tender, which derives from a European directive, there was a consultation process “in which all interested parties participated and gave their consent, namely airlines, operators, equipment manufacturers and trade union representatives”.
Now a process of several stages and several months begins. The first step, if it comes, could come from Iberia, which has not yet said whether it will appeal the awards decided in late September. At the moment, as the company told elDiario.es, it is “conducting a detailed analysis to determine if there is an option of recourse”, work carried out by both “the airport’s technical team and the legal entity. team.”
On its part, “Aena” explains that “Iberia” reviewed the tender documents “which are not confidential” a few days ago. In any case, he adds, the option would not be to go to the Central Administrative Court (TARC) for contractual resources, but to go through ordinary justice, which would take several years.
“The solution to this process is difficult. It is not easy for AEN to review the result of the competition. There may be a preventive suspension,” says the representative of UGT.
Another option is for Iberia to provide IAG group companies with autohandling, which, according to the unions, means it will retain about 70% of its workforce and that about 30% should be subrogated.
No decision has been made on this either. Next week’s dates are marked in the calendar. On the one hand, on the 23rd, mobilizations at the main airports provided by UGT and CCOO; and on the 26th, by USE at Iberia headquarters, to request automatic control.
From the same 26th, the contracts between Aena and the new operators should start to be closed, and from there they should start to enter into agreements with the airlines – their customers – at airports where there is more than one ground operator. When those final contracts are known and what templates are needed, that’s when the numbers will come out for the subrogations. And there are still options: to have temporary unions of companies (UTE), as happened in El Prat after the mobilization of 2006, when Iberia agreed to a joint bid with Globalia. “What we have now is a lot of uncertainty for the staff because they don’t know where they’re going to be working in six months,” says the USO Air Sector union’s action secretary.
Meanwhile, Javier Gandara, president of the Airline Association (ALA), suggested this Thursday that companies hope “there will be no labor conflicts”. “The agreement establishes subrogation obligations, we believe that there are no conflicts at airports, which are always undesirable and we have learned” from past situations.
Source: El Diario