Employees of Lebanese state-owned Middle East Airlines (MEA) vowed Tuesday, June 26, to shut down Beirut airport on July 3 and 4 to protest mass dismissals at the loss-making carrier. Union leader Hussein Abbas warned that the strike "will paralyze all traffic at the Beirut airport for two days."
He added that the shutdown has received "the support of personnel" at other airlines. Hundreds of MEA employees on Monday staged a four-hour sit-in at the company's headquarters on the perimeter of the Beirut airport and delayed six flights.
MEA chairman Mohammed Hout warned Monday that strike pressure could force the company to present a statement of affairs, a step on the way to bankruptcy. "We will then be forced to suspend payments, a matter which will endanger the future of all employees," he said.
Hout said the airline was currently losing $40 million a year. The MEA employees are backed by a number of members of parliament representing pro-Syrian political parties, including Hezbollah, and other unions.
MEA has only nine aircraft, all leased, but employs 3,500 people. Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri announced on May 12 plans to sack workers at the airline, but did not say how many. At the time, Hout spoke of 1,200.
The dismissals mainly concern ground personnel and about 10 percent of the 140 pilots, according to the syndicates.
In 1996, the Central Bank of Lebanon (CBL) acquired 99 percent of MEA, which was on the brink of financial collapse. Since then, the state has pumped $360 million into the company to keep it going. The Lebanese press has spoken of a further 100 million dollars required for redundancy payments.
Sources close to the CBL said the central bank can only support MEA until October if the restructuring plan fails. — (AFP)
© Agence France Presse
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)