Air traffic controllers shut down Addis Ababa airport in rare strike action

Ethiopia Ababa Bole International Airport
Ethiopia Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

Ethiopia air traffic controllers grounded flights after they took strike action in a dispute believed to be over pay and conditions.

Action delayed flights in the capital Addis Ababa as workers refused to take up their posts in a brief four-hour protest.

Ethiopia Civil Aviation Authority director Colonel Woseneyeleh Hunehna blamed “undisciplined staff” and “fake news” for the strike.

“A few undisciplined air traffic controllers were misled by a journalist who came and interviewed them and took false information,” he said.

Ethiopian state television confirmed the grounding of dozens of flights at Bole airport as its operation manager Nigussie Mulugeta claimed planes couldn’t leave as they had not been issued with air traffic clearance.

Industrial action is rare in Ethiopia with the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) accused of being in the control of the government. It has a total membership of just over 200,000 of Ethiopia’s 300,000 trade union members.

Poverty levels are high in Africa’s second most populous country and wages remain low. Despite a period of economic growth over recent years, Ethiopia’s GDP per capita remains one of the lowest in the world.

Anti-government protests rocked Ethiopia in 2016 with opposition groups demanding political reforms and an end to widespread human rights abuses. During the government backlash activists were arrested and the internet restricted. A state of emergency was declared which lasted almost a year.

In February, a new six-month national state of emergency was declared following the resignation of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn after three years of protests, the first leader in Ethiopia’s modern history to step down.

New Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his government would introduce new austerity measures aimed at clamping down on the expense of foreign travels, which are said to cost the country millions.

Flights resumed this afternoon, but the source of the dispute has not been confirmed.