RPT-Iberia and unions agree to government call for strike mediator
MADRID Feb 21 (Reuters) - Spanish airline Iberia and labour unions have agreed to bring in an independent mediator to facilitate talks in a dispute over job cuts, Public Works Minister Ana Pastor said on Thursday.
The government is concerned about the impact of Iberia's plans to cut more than 3,800 jobs on the country's record-high unemployment rate, as well as about the negative image that strikes are creating for the crisis-hit popular tourist destination.
Iberia's planes were grounded on Thursday during the first of three week-long strikes planned for February and March to protest the airline's plan to slash jobs and wages.
On Monday, union members clashed with police when the strike started as hundreds of protesting workers flooded into a terminal at Madrid's Barajas airport, the biggest airport in Spain.
"Things are moving in the right direction and there may be an agreement between the two parties," Pastor said in the halls of Parliament during Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's two-day State of the Nation address.
Gregorio Tudela, a professor at Madrid's Autonomous University, will be the mediator, she said.
Iberia and unions confirmed that they had agreed to mediation, but the head of the air sector for Spain's second largest union UGT, Nieves Garcia, said the strikes would not be suspended until the airline suspended its job-cutting plan.
Loss-making Iberia, which merged with British Airways in 2011 to form the International Airlines Group (IAG), has said the cuts are necessary for its survival.
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