From ERTE to ERE: Ávoris announces layoffs and aggravates the crisis of travel agencies

An announcement of layoffs, with figures yet to be specified, which comes after almost two years of temporary job cuts and a millionaire rescue with public funds. The Ávoris group, the result of the integration of the Barceló and Globalia travel agencies, has just informed the representatives of the workforce that it has taken the first steps to initiate a collective dismissal.

"After an operation as big as that of Barceló and Globalia, adjustments could come. Now we have found this, let's see what they propose to us," says José Luis Estévez, general secretary of SPV, the majority union in Ávoris, the largest company in the sector by number of employees, more than 6,000. "Behind this decision is, above all, the merger," CCOO sources deepen. "They had offices closed during the pandemic and there may be duplicate positions. At the moment, they have not given more details," they add.

The workers' representatives separate the company's decision from the situation in the sector, although they assume that it is one of the sectors that has suffered the most from the coronavirus, due to global restrictions on mobility.

Although tourism in Spain is returning to 2019 figures, on a global scale the sector is taking time to recover, given that traditional destinations such as Southeast Asia or Japan are still closed to foreign visitors, added to the situation generated by the invasion of Ukraine and the evolution of inflation. A blow to business that has also made travel agencies the first sector to apply the ERTE of the Red Mechanism created in the labor reformin an activity where personnel costs can account for 80% of company costs, according to business sources.

Ávoris, as such, began to be designed just before the pandemic. In the final stretch of 2019, the Barceló group and Globalia announced the integration of their distribution networks with the intention of creating a conglomerate with a turnover of more than 4,000 million euros, more than 6,000 employees and more than 1,500 points of sale.

Each of them contributed their marks. For example, Barceló included in the operation its retail travel agencies B the Travel Brand, Catai, BCD Travel and BCD Meetings & Events. Meanwhile, Globalia did the same with Viajes Ecuador and Halcón Viajes; as well as Geomoon, Travelplan, Welcome Beds, the corporate travel division Globalia Corporate Travel, Globalia Meetings & Events and Globalia Autocares.

Those were the wickers, but the pandemic swept away the initial plans, delayed the integration and led the company to have to be rescued by the State Company of Industrial Participations (SEPI), with funds worth 320 million euros, which the company will have to return before 2026. "That is the axis, if these aids carry limitations when it comes to being able to make layoffs," union sources indicate. "If they announce layoffs, it's because they can," they say.

The SEPI does not comment to whether or not the agreement with the public company limits layoffs and indicates that the conditions of the injections of funds are confidential. However, at the beginning of 2021 layoffs were already considered and the SEPI set a limit of 200 employees, which indicates, according to the aforementioned union sources, that this could now be the reference figure in terms of possible dismissals.

The company, through an internal communication that the Human Resources department has sent to the workforce, assures that "these have been hard and complicated months, in every way, with a market that is having enormous difficulties in recovering in a very gradual, slow and disparate depending on each line of business and below expectations".

Now, one year after the merger, "with an ERTE that has been progressively reduced, not only based on recovery but on many occasions in higher percentages than strictly necessary, so that we can be prepared and not miss out on opportunities. of market".

And he recognizes that this business integration results in adjustments: "The time has come to face the necessary organizational and structural adjustments derived from the merger, in addition to the necessary adaptation to the new behavior of market demand and its new trends". Among which he cites the increase in online sales, the disintermediation in travel contracting and changes in consumer habits.

With these arguments, the company justifies that on Monday it communicated to the workers' representatives the intention to negotiate an ERE, not for the entire group, but for the companies Ávoris Retail Division and Viajes Halcón, which add up to more than 2,500 employees. The ERE will begin to be negotiated from June 1. "It is vitally important to address it within this year 2022, since in this way the 'zero marker' mechanism in unemployment benefits will continue to be applicable," qualifies the statement sent to the staff.

The trade union representatives consulted highlight that the company renounced in October the exemptions from Social Security contributions that it could access in the ERTE as a result of COVID-19. This left the company free to carry out an ERE when the six-month period expired, as has finally happened.

"At the moment we do not have a clear approach of how they are going to plan the casualties, if they want to avoid duplication, close offices, if they want to make a more or less harmful ERE. We will try to preserve the greatest number of jobs and that the exits are in the best possible conditions," says the general secretary of SPV.

Beyond this merger, the job cut in Ávoris is not an element unrelated to the reality that the travel agency industry is experiencing. In March of this year, Viajes El Corte Inglés agreed with the union representatives an ERE for 475 people, of voluntary affiliation, and that more than 860 employees requested.

"In these years of the pandemic, we have made a great effort to save a lot of jobs," says Carlos Garrido, president of the Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV). "In the large agencies there has been a concentration, but in the small ones there has been dispersion. It already happened in the 2008 crisis, when a person in this sector loses his job, he often creates his own agency," he says.

The head of the employers' association points out that "in the last three years prior to the pandemic, until 2019, the sector created employment, more than 7%. It is a strong sector with capacity. I am hopeful and convinced that we will reach 70,000 employees and return to pre-COVID-19 figures". With the coronavirus, the sector cut its workforce by 20%.

The representative of the SPV union also points out that there has been a transfer from salaried personnel to freelancers and that nearly 7,000 travel agencies do not have any employees on staff. This complicates, for example, collective bargaining in a segment of activity that next year will have to discuss a new sectoral agreement.

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