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19-03-2012 - Gulfnews

Wage strike by staff halts Kuwait Airways flights

Kuwait: State carrier Kuwait Airways cancelled nine flights late on Saturday after a walkout by employees calling for higher pay, the company's managing director said.

The airline workers join around 3,000 striking customs employees at the Gulf state's ports and borders. The carrier's 4,000 unionised workers last went on strike in October, also over wage demands.

So far, the industrial action across the country does not appear to have halted oil exports from the Opec member state as it did in the wave of strikes last year.

The country produces around three million barrels of oil a day, according to the state oil company KPC. Customs workers in Kuwait went on strike on Tuesday over wages, but an Oil Ministry official said there were no signs of serious disruptions at the Gulf state's ports. Customs employees last waged a strike in October, disrupting oil shipments from the Opec member state. It was not immediately clear how many workers participated in Tuesday's strike. Last year's strike halted vessel traffic in and out of Kuwaiti ports, including at least five oil tankers. Workers from Kuwait Airways also went on strike last year.

Capping prices

The ministry has "instructed trade controllers to handle decisively any attempt to raise the prices of basic commodities", commerce ministry under-secretary Abdul Aziz Al Khaldi told state news agency Kuna. The upward pressure on wages in Kuwait, partly due to increased union activity since last year's Arab Spring in the region, has become a major issue for economic policymakers. The finance minister said last year that public sector wages had risen to about 85 per cent of the country's oil revenues, which he called "a real danger".

Last month, Kuwait's Central Bank Governor Shaikh Salem Abdul Aziz Al Sabah resigned after 25 years in the post, complaining about the rapid rise in government spending.

However, state finances appear able to cope with the latest public sector wage hike, at least for now, thanks to high global oil prices.

State workers benefit

On March 11, Kuwait's government, under pressure from labour unions, had announced a 25 per cent pay increase to state workers. The increase also comes after a snap election last month that saw the Islamist-led opposition take control of parliament.

But some unions say the rise was not enough. Those calling for industrial action say that wages have not kept up with inflation for the past few years and complain that pay rises at management levels are not matched with similar increases lower down in company ranks.

Policymakers have promised to head off inflation in the prices of basic goods after the announced pay hike.

The upward pressure on wages in Kuwait is partly due to increased union activity since last year's Arab Spring uprisings in the region.


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