Thousands of Airport Workers in India End Four-Day Strike

NEW DELHI_Thousands of striking airport workers ended a four-day strike after the government promised them work when India's two largest airports are privatized, a union official said.

The strikers were also guaranteed Saturday that they would not be punished for the protest, said M.K. Ghoshal, a union leader at the Airport Authority of India.

The strike, mainly by cleaners and administrators, had little effect on flights. But it forced airports to run on emergency power generators, and left them without water and littered with garbage.

Passengers had to endure stinking toilets and filthy waiting halls at major airports in Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta and other cities.

"In view of the assurances by India's civil aviation minister and an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, I call off the strike," Ghoshal said at the New Delhi airport.

"We have agreed that the stalemate of the last four days at the airports must come to an end," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters after meeting strikers' representatives in New Delhi. "I hope that all issues have been resolved and normalcy will return to our airports as of this evening."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with representatives of the 22,000 workers who had been on strike since Wednesday, a day after private companies won tenders to operate the New Delhi and Bombay airports.

Singh told the workers their jobs would remain secure because the private operators' contracts say they must keep at least 60 percent of those employed by the Airport Authority of India at the two airports, Patel said

"We will request them to take more people," Patel said. "The rest will remain on the payrolls of AAI, which will continue to operate other airports in the country."

Earlier, workers protesting inside the New Delhi airport said police had forced them from the terminal in the middle of the night, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

"It is highly condemnable that the police acted in the dead of night against the employees who were holding a peaceful protest," it quoted Ghoshal as saying.

The New Delhi High Court on Thursday banned protests within 500 meters (yards) of the airport building.

The strike was called after Germany's Fraport and Airports Company South Africa, along with Indian partners, won tenders to modernize and operate the New Delhi and Bombay airports.

The two airports together handle nearly 65 percent of India's international traffic - about 19 million passengers a year - and are struggling to cope with booming air traffic as the economy soars. They have long been criticized for inefficiency and discomfort.