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Spain's Iberia workers end strike, no deal in sight

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Workers at Spanish airline Iberia on Friday wrapped up a week-long strike that has seen hundreds of flights cancelled, with no sign of agreement in a dispute over the company's plan to cut 3,800 jobs.

Staff marked the last day of this week's strike -- the first of three planned five-day actions -- with a noisy demonstration in terminal four of Madrid's Barajas airport.

They waved banners reading "British Go Home" -- a reference to British Airways, which merged with Iberia in 2011 to form the International Airlines Group (IAG) in a tie-up aimed at slashing costs.

Some protesters wore pirate hats and eye-patches and waved skull-and-crossbones flags symbolising what they saw as an aggressive takeover of their beloved national carrier.

Unions called similar demonstrations in other airports across the country.

A demonstration at Barajas on Monday led to clashes with riot police when protesters tried to force their way into the building, but no incidents were reported at Friday's action.

IAG announced last week that it would axe 3,800 jobs at Iberia out of a total 20,000.

Cabin crew, ground staff and maintenance workers responded by announcing the three five-day strikes this month and next.

Spain is in a recession that has thrown millions out of work and driven the unemployment rate over 26 percent.

With major airlines fighting to respond to competition from low-cost carriers, the Spanish flag-carrier has become one of the latest and most prominent companies to announce job cuts.

Iberia executives say the airline accumulated 850 million euros ($1.1 billion) in losses between 2008 and September 2012 and the airline aims to cut its capacity by 15 percent this year.

Workers accuse the management of betraying them and selling off the pride of Spanish aviation to foreign interests.

"The management does not want to negotiate. We want the government to intervene and undo the merger of Iberia and British Airways," said one protester, Silvia Navarro, 40, an air hostess who works on routes to Latin America.

"We haven't given up the jobs for lost yet, if the government intervenes."

The government on Thursday appointed a mediator to try and resolve the dispute. Management did not appear to have budged on the job cuts.

Deafening horns and whistles resounded around the terminal building, where the crowds of demonstrators blocked passengers arriving with their luggage to check in.

An Iberia spokeswoman said on Friday that the four airlines in the IAG group had cancelled 1,288 flights this week, mostly across Spain and Europe.

These included flights operated by Iberia and its low-cost arm Iberia Express, plus partners Air Nostrum and Vueling.

The workers planned to strike again from March 4-8 and again from March 18-22 -- just before the Easter holiday week. A minimum service is operating under Spanish law.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130222/spains-iberia-workers-end-strike-no-deal-sight