Scuffles as Cyprus Airways staff protest airline closure

Axed Cyprus Airways staff scuffled with police on Monday (Jan 12) during protests against the closure of the national carrier after it was deemed to contravene EU state aid rules.

Around 300 airline staff demonstrated outside the finance ministry in Nicosia to voice their disagreement with the government over the closure. The scuffles broke out when some protesters tried to break through a police checkpoint to enter the building.

There were no arrests and nobody was seriously hurt during the protest. Unions said they would continue their action on Tuesday outside the presidential palace.

On Friday, the government announced an immediate halt to flights by Cyprus Airways, which is 93 per cent state owned, after EU regulators ordered it to recover illegal state aid granted to the ailing airline.

Communications Minister Marios Demetriades had said the airline could not survive if the EU decided Cyprus broke the rules by giving it a €31 million (US$37 million) capital increase and a €34 million (US$40 million) rescue loan.

On the streets of Nicosia there was anger and tears. “I spent 23 years in this company. It’s my whole life, it was my second home. I can’t describe how I feel, honestly,” said veteran flight attendant and father of three Marios Christodoulou.

He said he came to express his anger at having lost his job, accusing the government of mismanaging the airline. “There is no future now in Cyprus and I’m old now, I am 43 years old … Who is going to hire a 43-year-old man as a cabin crew?,” he said. “I don’t believe I have future,” he added, worried he will no longer be able to pay his children’s school fees.

Ticketing officer Maria, 50, was also in tears. “Where will I go … I’m afraid for the next months. I have no money and I have two kids, one is 23 and studies in England, the other is 15.”

Staff are demanding they be better compensated for losing their jobs and want to be given priority if a new airline is established with the Cyprus Airways logo, as the government says it is trying to do.

Union official Vangelis Mappourides said it will cost the government more than €33 million (US$39 million) in paying off staff plus unemployment benefits – money that could have been spent on a rescue plan.

Main opposition party Akel on Monday slammed the government over the airline shutdown, describing it as “premeditated murder” and said it would raise the issue in parliament.

The government has defended its decision to halt flights, calling the closure of debt-laden Cyprus Airways “unavoidable”. The carrier struggled to survive against intense competition on its most popular routes to Greece and London.

Sourced by Channel News Asia

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