Air Traffic Strike Grounds All Flights In Poland
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ International and domestic flights in Poland were halted for about 12 hours today when air traffic controllers went on strike to demand better pay and modern equipment.
The controllers ended their strike late in the day at the request of President Lech Walesa, and a special committee was to be established to review their demands, Radio Zet reported. Air traffic was to resume immediately.
Poland has seen a wave of short-lived strikes in recent weeks. The government’s economic reform policies are meant to allow prices to rise to realistic levels while wages are capped to check inflation.
The Solidarity chapter representing all airport employees denounced the strike by the controllers’ unit. It said the walkout was an ″example of supporting the forces aiming at evoking chaos in Poland.″
During the strike, train information lines were jammed by frustrated travelers, and the national airline, LOT, gave refunds on tickets. The nearest international airports are in Berlin, a seven-hour drive from Warsaw, and Prague, about two hours from Poland’s southwest border.
The controllers’ demands included wages comparable with colleagues in the West and modernization of air traffic equipment, the PAP news agency reported. They are also seeking creation of an independent air traffic control agency, shorter working hours and a lower retirement age.
Controllers’ monthly wages in Poland range from $288 to $450, according to a striking controller who spoke on condition of anonymity. The average national wage is about $170.
The strike will cost airport management $41,000 daily, at a time when it has financial difficulties due to construction costs and modernizing equipment, chapter chairman Piotr Maletko said in a statement.
The walkout followed unsuccessful negotiations Sunday by the controllers union, the Transportation Ministry and airport management.
Maria Adam Berezowski, deputy main inspector for civil aviation, said it was not possible to replace the controllers with military counterparts because they do not speak English.
A contract was signed a year ago with Westinghouse Electric Corp. to start updating the antiquated air traffic control system at Poland’s main airport, Okecie in Warsaw. Officials said then that the system lacked instruments to allow for arrivals and departures during some weather and light conditions.
A German contractor is building a new terminal at Okecie, with which the government hopes will attract increased business and tourist traffic and create a hub airport for Eastern Europe.