Spain approved new austerity measures on Friday, and gave the go-ahead for a limited stimulus package in an effort to quiet the markets’ concern over its financial situation. However, just hours after the measures were approved, The Associated Press reported that the nation’s air traffic controllers staged a huge sickout in protest; part of the austerity plan calls for partially privatizing important airports.
Tourism and business alike suffered as at least 200,000 travelers found themselves grounded just before a long holiday weekend. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister, ordered the military to take the reins. The walkout lasted for 24 hours and is estimated to have cost the tourism industry 350 million euros, according to Reuters, and the airlines and airlines more than 100 million euros.
While the announcement of the planned austerity measures were made on Wednesday and the approval on Friday helped Spain’s bond sale to be successful, the unexpected sickout was seen as an embarrassment for Zapatero. Controllers, according to Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, will work through the Christmas holidays under military supervision during a 15-day state of emergency.
Spain has gone in less than three years from its position as Europe’s top creator of jobs to being the unemployment champion of the euro zone, with a rate of nearly 20%. The government has announced that it will not only sell a stake in the airports to raise a hoped-for 9 billion euros, but will also cut jobless benefits and sell its stake in the lottery. It has already frozen pensions and cut civil sector pay, and made it both cheaper and easier for companies to lay off employees. The government’s support is now at its lowest level since the country became democratic.