After two weeks of chaos, Barcelona airport faces a worsening situation as security staff begin a continuous 24-hour strike.
The private security workers have been staging go-slows and rolling one-hour strikes since late July and on Sunday voted for a second time to reject the company’s offer, paving the way for 24-hour strike action.
The workers voted by 150 to 36 to reject the offer and to go ahead with the planned industrial action.
Spain’s minister for infrastructure, Íñigo de la Serna, said on Sunday that this was the strikers’ “last chance” and that he would send in Guardia Civil officers to ensure that the airport continued to function if they voted to walk out.
De la Serna said he had no option but to send in the police because the strike action “not only affects passengers and the country’s image, as well as being a problem for Catalonia and Barcelona, but also security and public order”.
After the vote to strike, De la Serna said that he had asked the court of arbitration to rule that the security staff have an obligation to work because they provide an essential service.
Leopoldo García Quinteiro, the lawyer representing the strike committee, said the minister’s threats were disproportionate.
Puri Infante, a member of the committee, said: “This could have been settled sooner, but now De la Serna wants to break the strike, which is a constitutional right.”
Waits of up to three hours have led to more than 1,000 passengers missing their flights over the past two weeks.
Travellers have been arriving several hours early for fear of missing their planes, compounding the problem.
On Thursday, security staff voted to reject the company’s offer and instead voted in favour of one that wasn’t on the table.
They complain that in addition to being poorly paid (€800-€1,100 a month/£731-£1014), understaffing means they often have to work 16-hour days.
They are demanding an increase of 15 monthly payments of €250, paid over a 12-month period, while the company is offering 12 payments of €200, which workers have again rejected.
The regional Catalan government, which has been trying broker a deal, has now pulled out.
“We tried to bring them together,” said Dolors Bassa, the local employment minister.
“Now it’s up to the employers and the workers to negotiate.”
From next Sunday, strike action is expected to spread to airports in A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of the country.