The December bridge, one of the times with the highest traffic of people in our country, is this year marked by the limitation of movements derived from the covid-19 pandemic. The absence of plans differs from what happened ten years ago, when few people could imagine a situation like this. That Friday – December 3, 2010 – many Spaniards packed their bags and headed to the airport to start a vacation or visit family, but they did not make it past the departure lounge. Around five in the afternoon, the vast majority of the controllers abandoned their jobs and AENA closed the airspace. A day later, the Government decreed, for the first time in a democracy, the state of alarm.
That was the only time, before the pandemic began, that this instrument included in the Constitution has been used. If the objective of the three states of alarm decreed this year – two nationwide and one in the Community of Madrid – has been to limit mobility, that of 2010 sought the opposite. According to the BOE published after the urgent meeting of the Council of Ministers, then chaired by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Article 19 of the Magna Carta “recognizes all Spaniards the right to free movement throughout the national territory”, something that was limited “by the closure of airspace as a result of the situation triggered by the abandonment of their obligations on the part of the controllers ”.
The situation had exploded into the air, but it had been simmering for many months. The Government wanted to modify the working conditions of air traffic controllers as a result of their high cost, something that had caused numerous clashes between both parties. In fact, the Executive accused them of carrying out covert strikes. On December 3, the Council of Ministers approved a new rule that limited the number of hours they could work per year: 1,670. Arguing that the vast majority had already surpassed them – from the Union of Air Traffic Controllers (USCA) they even speak of workers with up to 2,000 accumulated hours of work – the controllers of the shift that began at five in the afternoon do not appear to to work. And the chaos begins.
“It was acted as a consequence of the high cost of air control due to European warning and the reports of the General State Intervention”, the then Minister of Public Works assures ABC, Jose Blanco. “It was not possible to find a negotiated solution and that led to the signing of a decree in the Council of Ministers and, therefore, today the cost of air navigation is almost half of what it was before. This redounds to the benefit of air rates, which are lower, and of AENA’s income statements, “he adds. Blanco, however, regrets that the situation ended in court, with 22 cases against the controllers.
Ten years of judicial journey
About twenty of these cases have ended up on file and in the remaining two the defendants reached agreements with the Prosecutor’s Office. This is the case of Madrid, whose sentence was known in October of this year: 119 of the 133 accused recognized a concerted and collective action in order to “exert pressure on AENA and the Government of Spain.” As reported by this newspaper, 131 drivers were sentenced to fines ranging from 15,000 to 31,500 euros.
“An abandonment of service with a fine is accepted as advice of our lawyers, who after four or five years see that it is not a normal criminal process,” he says Daniel Zamit, USCA spokesman. “A trial was dangerous, people could get into prison, but the arguments that have served in 20 courts in Madrid do not count »He adds, and does not hesitate to affirm that “the powers of the state are not independent of each other”: “Politics gets into the judicial system.” That was what led them to sign the agreement “with the conviction” that they assumed “someone else’s fault.”
The union maintains that what there was was a labor dispute and that trying to solve it by means of a state of alarm decree “speaks very badly of that Government and its ability to resolve it.” «We suffered a press campaign that has penetrated public opinion, we are guilty of a wildcat strike even though 20 judges have said no “, defends itself.
A sentence “devastating for the State”
“The sentence of Judge Vázquez Taín is devastating for the State and that has not been taken into account in Madrid.” With these words, Zamit refers to the order to file the judicial process opened in Santiago. The magistrate recapitulated moments when the control tower of the compostelano airport functioned despite the “obvious” shortage of personnel (even with only one of the five controllers that should be in each shift) without airspace closures, or very punctual, due to the poor organization of human resources.
Vázquez Taín supports the version of the controllers – the excess of hours worked, something that had been notified to those responsible – and is blunt: “The closure of the airspace cannot be linked to the cessation of activity exercised by the accused”. Zamit sees in this car clear evidence that the closure of the airspace and the subsequent decree of the state of alarm was a decision with exclusively political interests: «That your Government, your Ministry and your company talk about you the way they do. They did … They caused chaos for which they held us responsible.
Other sources consulted by ABC, close to the Government at the time, argue that the differences between sentences such as Santiago and Madrid are due to the fact that Torrejón de Ardoz, on the outskirts of the capital, is one of the five centers of control that exists in Spain. They monitor flights from the starting point to the final destination. “The control tower only determines whether or not they land at an airport,” they say, so in towers such as the one in the Galician capital “it can be said that they did not leave even if they went home because the airspace was closed.” “It has a legal logic,” they settle.