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Australia Air Trafficers on Strike

March 21, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Air traffic controllers walked out of airports Thursday to protest stalled pay talks, throwing international and domestic flight schedules into chaos and causing hours of delays for thousands of passengers.

Controllers at Sydney, Brisbane and a smaller regional airport, Coolangatta, stopped work for five hours starting at 11 a.m. from 11 a.m.

Australian carrier Qantas was forced to cancel up to 80 flights and reschedule dozens more. Sydney airport, which can handle up to 70 flights an hour, allowed only 12 an hour as its control tower operated on a skeleton staff.

Civil Air Operations Officers Association president Ted Lang said the strike was a final bid to have Airservices Australia, a government authority, listen to controllers on a number of issues but, in particular, safety concerns about on-the-job stress and fatigue.

``If we can’t move forward by negotiating with Airservices, we thought perhaps this action might focus their mind on the key issue,″ he said.

Airservices spokesman Richard Dudley said the strikes would affect about 75 percent of flights and cause lengthy delays.

Airservices Australia has sought an urgent hearing in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Canberra to resolve the dispute.

Federal Transport Minister John Anderson said the strike was an ``extraordinary inconvenience″ to the public and that controllers were seeking a 17 percent increase in wages ``at a time when many people in aviation would be just thankful to have a job.″

Controllers stopped work for four hours last week delaying several international flights for up to two hours at Melbourne Airport.

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