Airport Workers Strike Across India, But No Affect on Flights

Thousands of airport workers went on strike Wednesday across India to protest modernization plans they fear could cost them jobs, but flights continued without disruption, officials said.

The striking employees, mostly cleaners and administrators, held protests outside airports to demand the government rescind its decision to privatize the New Delhi and Bombay airports.

Germany's Fraport and the Airports Company South Africa won tenders Tuesday to modernize and operate the two airports, both which are struggling to cope with booming air traffic brought about by India's rapid economic growth.

Despite the strike, there was no disruption of flights since air traffic controllers did not join in, said Bombay airport director Sudhir Kumar.

"Air traffic will remain unaffected. We have taken all measures to see that passengers are not affected. Security has also been tightened," said Kumar.

In Patna, the capital of the state of Bihar, 12 air force personnel were brought in to replace striking workers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Authorities said they have reinforced the staff of the Central Industrial Security Force, which is responsible for the security of major airports in India.

Thousands of airport workers held noisy, but peaceful, sit-ins outside terminal buildings, chanting slogans against the privatization plans.

India's Cabinet was set Wednesday to formally approve Germany's Fraport and the Airports Company South Africa as the winners of the airport contracts.

But the protesters were not waiting for final approval before beginning the open-ended, nationwide strike.

"We will launch our agitation without waiting for the Cabinet decision as the government has already started the privatization process by opening the bids," Amitabh Nandi a communist lawmaker told PTI outside the Calcutta airport.

Under the contracts, however, the new airport operators must retain the current employees of state-run Airports Authority of India for at least three years.

AAI will remain responsible for security and air traffic control.

The airports are currently run by the government, and labor unions representing airport workers have angrily protested the privatization moves, fearing job cuts.

The GMR-Fraport consortium, a joint venture between India's GMR and Fraport AG that operates the Frankfurt airport, won the bid to modernize and operate the New Delhi airport, while a collaboration of India's GVK with Airports Company South Africa won the bid for the Bombay airport, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters Tuesday.

Between them, the New Delhi and Bombay airports handle almost 65 percent of India's international traffic - about 19 million passengers a year. Both airports have long been criticized for their inefficiency and lack of comfort.

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