AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS in Cyprus have walked off the job for four hours, to protest a two-year government worker wage freeze and other deficit-reduction measures.
The latest strike action on the island comes in the wake of last month’s package of cost cuts and tax increases, which are intended to boost investor confidence.
Cyprus is struggling to convince investors it has a strategy to deal with its problems and its credit rating was cut last week to junk status by the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency largely because of the country’s sizable financial sector’s heavy exposure to Greek debt.
Airport spokesman Adamos Aspris said the stoppage – between 1pm and 5pm local time (11am to 3pm Irish time) affected more than 5,000 passengers on 38 flights to and from the island’s two airports. No flights to Ireland are thought to have been affected.
The Air Traffic Controllers’ Union president Giorgos Georgiou defended the action, arguing that his members have been unfairly grouped with other government workers.
The union says air traffic controllers should be exempt from austerity measures aimed at cutting the public pay bill, because their wages come from levies paid by airlines to use Cyprus-controlled airspace.
Georgiou said the government’s measures, which also include lower overtime pay and higher contribution to social insurance, would shrink controllers’ take home pay by up to 40 per cent and rejected criticism that the union is holding the economy hostage.
Communications minister Efthymios Flourentzou said he wants arbitrators to adjudicate the dispute.
Air traffic controllers staged a 12-hour strike last month to protest the measures. Another four-hour work stoppage is planned for next week.
Cyprus is largely reliant on a €4.5 billion low-interest loan from Russia in order to meet its financial needs for this year, having been largely frozen out of international money markets.
Additional reporting by Gavan Reilly