Air traffic controllers in several Siberian cities who
monitor flights between Moscow and Central Asia and Russia’s Far East have
begun a hunger strike to demand higher wages, Russian media reported Friday.
The strike, involving at least 100 people, has closed
some swaths of western Siberian airspace to afternoon and night flights. It
threatens to force the cancellation of flights and the closure of airports
as the protest action spreads to other cities.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has warned that it may
resort to court action to force the strikers back to work, ITAR-Tass news
“We will not give up,” said Sergei Kovalyov,
president of the Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Trade Unions,
according to Interfax news agency. “We are even ready to stop drinking
The strike began in the western Siberian city of Surgut
with about 20 air traffic controllers protesting over 5,000 ruble (US$161,
or about 6900 baht) monthly paychecks, which they said were below
subsistence level, TVS television reported. Colleagues in other Siberian
cities then joined them, beginning in Nizhnevartovsk and Khanty-Mansiisk on
Wednesday. Thursday brought support from about 30 controllers in Novosibirsk
and 40 workers from Salekhard, Interfax news agency reported. Controllers in
the Siberian city of Omsk also gave the protest action their backing.
TVS showed one group of about a dozen protesters in
Surgut sprawling on coaches, emptying out refrigerators and receiving
check-ups from doctors. Others were shown drinking water mixed with
medicine, TVS said.
“We expect our numbers to keep growing,” Stanislav
Dasmanov, an air traffic controller in Novosibirsk told TVS.
So far, the airports were substituting experts from
airport administration to handle control tower duties, and making some
scheduling changes. Airspace over Surgut was closed from 2 p.m. to 7 a.m.,
Alexander Neradko, chief of Russia’s Civil Aviation
Service, told TVS that the situation was not endangering or disrupting air
traffic. He flew to Surgut to meet with the strikers.
“We hope the efforts we are making will help bring the
situation back to normal and avoid any further deterioration,” he said.
But officials said pay hikes were not feasible.
Anatoly Stepanov, an air traffic controller in Omsk, told
ITAR-Tass that the 5,000 ruble (US$161) wage was “an insult to workers
responsible for ... the lives of people.”
Strikes in post-Soviet Russia are common, particularly
among government employees who are often the lowest paid. Another strike was
underway in the northwestern city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, where about
1,000 garbage collectors were protesting low wages, Russian television