Tirana, Albania | 07 April 2021 (Tirana Echo) – An unexpected strike by air traffic controllers in Albania’s only international Airport in Tirana, has forced the country to close its airspace and cancel all flights to and from Tirana.
The Albanian Government has condemned the collective action, calling it illegal and dangerous to national security of the NATO member country, while the Army has taken over the premises.
In an unprecedented development, air traffic controllers walked out of the air traffic tower Tuesday night, crippling all air traffic to and from the airport while shutting down Albania’s airspace for all international transit.
Air traffic controllers went on strike following a recent decision by Albcontrol, the state-owned shareholding company, to cut their monthly salaries by half while halting all other contract benefits as the Covid pandemic takes a toll on the economy.
Despite negotiations ongoing with the government, controllers are unhappy with the latest decision arguing their very high levels of stress caused by the job cannot be left uncompensated.
“After 11 months we are at the starting point without any foreseen solution for the near future. The dire situation ongoing for over 11 months has caused a dangerous environment and high levels of stress for air traffic controllers”, said the Independent Union of Air Traffic Control of Albania (SPKTA) several days ago.
Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku called the strike illegal and in breech of the Code of Labor which forbids strikes in key strategic sectors of public life.
Balluku went further by alleging this is a “coup d’état by Albania’s President Ilir Meta and former PM Sali Berisha” adding that the illegal action is disrupting flights and vaccine arrivals in the small Balkan country.
While the entire fleet of 60 air traffic controllers of Albania proclaimed their collective incapacity to exercise their duty by signing a document which grants them the right to stay off work, Minister Balluku labelled it a strike which was inspired by the country’s President Ilir Meta and former PM Sali Berisha.
Such accusations against President Ilir Meta were echoed later by the Albanian prime minister Edi Rama across social networks.
“Ilir, you are one of the two inciters of this mad coup, as part of your tireless efforts to bring down the government and the state. You can forget both of them”, wrote PM Rama online, alleging the air traffic controllers have been incited by the President who received them in a meeting several days earlier.
In a televised response later, President Meta responded that he has repeatedly “called on the air controllers to return to work while this crisis is the result of the lack of dialogue between their Union and the Government”.
The Albanian Army and Police have taken over the Airport and Albcontrol’s premises while the country lacks extra air traffic controlling capacity to take over the monitoring of Albania’s airspace.
Albania’s Defense Minister Niko Peleshi said the international airport of Tirana “is an object of strategic importance for our national security as parts of the airport are used by the Army”.
Prime Minister Rama appealed to the air traffic controllers to distance themselves from those who incited the action.
“Who does not return to work tomorrow, will not have a place at Albcontrol any longer”, threatened Rama.
Prosecutors have ordered several arrests while the Government has pledged to take all necessary measures to enable the resumption of air traffic as soon as possible.
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