Air traffic controllers in Cyprus walked off the job for four hours on Wednesday to protest a two-year government worker wage freeze and other deficit-reduction measures.
The latest strike action on the island nation comes in the wake of last month's package of cost cuts and tax increases, which are intended to boost investor confidence. Cyprus is struggling to convince investors it has a strategy to deal with its problems and its credit rating was cut last week to junk status by the Standard & Poor's ratings agency largely because of the country's sizable financial sector's heavy exposure to Greek debt.
Airport spokesman Adamos Aspris said the stoppage between 1300 and 1700 local time affected more than 5,000 passengers on 38 flights to and from the island's two airports.
The Air Traffic Controllers' Union President Giorgos Georgiou defended the action, arguing that his members have been unfairly grouped with other government workers.
Since air traffic controllers' salaries come from levies airlines pay the government to use Cyprus-controlled airspace, they should be exempt from austerity measures aimed at reducing public sector costs that take up to a third of all government spending, he said.
Georgiou said the government's measures, that also include lower overtime pay and higher contribution to social insurance, would shrink controllers' take home pay by up to 40 percent, and rejected criticism that the union is holding the economy hostage.
Communications Minister Efthymios Flourentzou said he wants arbitrators to adjudicate the dispute.
The Cyprus Federation of Employers and Industrialists in a statement urged the government to consider privatizing air traffic control services.
Air traffic controllers staged a 12-hour strike last month to protest the measures. Another four-hour work stoppage is planned for next week.
Largely unable to borrow from international markets, the island is relying on a euro4.5 billion ($5.8 billion), low-interest Russian loan to meet its financial needs for this year.