Striking Iberia workers protest against job cuts

Hundreds of striking workers of loss-making Spanish airline Iberia protested in Madrid Wednesday against the company's plans to slash 3,800 jobs and cut salaries following its merger with British Airways.

To the din of horns and smoking firecrackers, over a thousand people massed outside the company's headquarters, waving red and yellow Spanish flags and signs that read "British go home" and "Iberia is Spanish".

"Iberia management are a bunch of London puppets," said Jaime Quintana who has worked as a member of Iberia's cabin crew for 12 years and who represents Spain's largest trade union, Comisiones Obreras.

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

They point out that while Iberia has scaled back flights after it merged with British Airways in 2011 to form the International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways has expanded its operations and its fleet.

"They are emptying off Iberia in favour of British Airways," said Pablo, a 54-year-old Iberia pilot who did not want to give his last name because he said he feared reprisals from the company.

Iberia ground and flight staff began a second five-day strike on Monday against the planned job cuts and salary reductions that has forced the cancellation of 1,370 flights.

Iberia workers carried out the first of their three five-day strikes last week and plan another from March 18 to 22. A minimum service operates during the strike under Spanish law.

Iberia says it has relocated 38,000 passengers to other flights this week, and is issuing refunds for another 2,000 passengers affected by the disruption.

Unions have threatened to stage an open-ended strike unless Iberia backs down on its plans.

"If we do not do anything, within two years Iberia will disappear," said 32-year-old flight attendant Cristina Gomez.

IAG announced an annual net loss of 943 million euros ($1.2 billion) in 2012, citing financial strains at Iberia and a soaring fuel bill.

Iberia executives say the airline accumulated 850 million euros in losses between 2008 and September 2012.