UK flights strike warning as low-cost airline pilots call four days of action in Spain

VUELING: Flies from many British airports including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh VUELING: Flies from many British airports including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh Shutterstock

LAST-DITCH talks are being held between a low-cost airline in Spain and a pilots' union to avert four full days of strikes that could start next week and affect thousands of UK passengers.

Spanish airline Vueling operates flights to Alicante, Barcelona, Palma, Ibiza and Malaga from many British airports including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Hundreds of flights could suffer cancellations and delays if an agreement is not reached over claimed breaches of employment contracts and the airline's refusal to guarantee greater growth in Spain than in its foreign bases.

The Spanish airline pilots union (SEPLA) and Vueling, owned by British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group are trying the avert the four days of 24-hour strikes scheduled for 25 and 26 April and May 3 and 4.

Currently, Vueling has around 1,000 pilots based in Spain, and about 150 overseas. But it is feared this could change as bases are moved abroad.

SEPLA has also accused the company of breaching the collective agreement for pay and conditions despite tripling its profits.

Juan Manuel Redondo, head of the trade union section of SEPLA at  Vueling, said, “both parties are working together and, for our part, we are committed to finding an agreement right until the last moment". 

If it goes ahead it would the first Vueling pilots’ strike in their history.

Redondo said, “Now that Vueling is tripling its profits, and that there have even been distributions of up to €100 million euros of dividends before results, the conditions for the pilots do not change. 

"It's worse," says Redondo, because the company's only offer, which they say has been rejected by 90% of the pilots, "is a zero improvement and even worsens the conditions of the previous agreement." 

Vueling pilots claim they receive 30% less on average than their main competitors including  Ryanair and easyJet.

SEPLA claims that at least 30 pilots have already left the airline this year joining the 90 that left last year.

“They do not want to be in the company," says Redondo. "Although it is a company with great potential," he acknowledged.

Karl Smallman

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