- By Region
Spain’s pilots’ union has announced that it will strike over the Christmas period in an escalation of an industrial dispute triggered by Iberia’s plans to establish a new low-cost domestic carrier.
Sepla, which represents pilots working for Iberia, now the Spanish unit of a merged holding company with British Airways, voted to strike for two days in December. BA cabin crew walked out last year over moves to cut staff on long-haul flights.
Iberia earlier this year announced plans to create Iberia Express, a low-cost carrier designed to trim its costs and boost profitability at a time when its short-haul operations are struggling in the face of competition from low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair.
Spain’s large network of cross country high-speed trains, combined with well established low-cost airline routes, has further weighed on profitability for other airlines.
Sepla, which voted for crews to strike on December 18 and December 29, said it regarded the plan as illegal since it was announced because it broke collective agreements made between pilots and Iberia during the merger with British Airways to form International Airlines Group.
Rafael Sánchez-Lozano, Iberia’s chief executive, has pledged that no staff will lose their jobs after the creation of Iberia Express, and that the new entity would not immediately take control over all of the carriers’ short and medium-haul flights.
The company said that it had not broken its agreements, as the wages for Iberia pilots who will transfer to Iberia Express will not change. As a result, it argues, the strike is illegal.
However, IAG said that it plans to recruit any new staff for the new operation at “market rates”, which could be lower than the current collectively agreed contracts, a move it hopes will help cut operating costs at the lossmaking short and medium-haul business.
Iberia Express will take four planes from Iberia’s stock when it comes into operation next year, with the company later lifting the number to 40 by the end of 2015.
Iberia has 68 aircraft in operation for its medium and short-haul flights.
Both Iberia and BA have reported operating losses so far this year as they struggle to trim costs and provide stiffer competition for their low-cost rivals.