Prime Minister Edi Rama accused President Ilir Meta of attempting to stage a coup on Wednesday by agitating air traffic controllers of Albcontrol to suspend their work at the Tirana airport, thus bringing air traffic to a halt.
Air traffic controllers presented their supervisors with their “temporary inability to work” notice last evening. Their lawyer said they are not on a strike but are under conditions of “temporary inability to work” due to the situation created by the board of Albcontrol.
As a result, all flights were cancelled for 24 hours until 10 a.m. on Thursday.
One week ago, their union met with the President, and presented him with concerns over some decisions of the board during the last year. They claim that the board has changed regulations and manuals related to safety of air control, thus putting at risk their safety and that of the country’s air space.
They claimed that the government has dismissed their pleas for the last 10 months, despite support by the Air Traffic Controllers European Union Coordination (ATCEUC).
In their meeting last week, President Meta called on air traffic controllers to continue their work without interruption, as it is a matter of national security first and foremost. He said he will ask the government and related agencies to sit in dialogue with the union.
Fast forward one week, air controllers today said they are “temporarily unable to work”. They demanded the return to work of some of their colleagues allegedly fired or suspended today, repeal of some board decisions, payment of full salary according to a collective contract, full transparency for Albcontrol operations in 2020, and for one union member to be part of the board.
The suspension of air traffic prompted Minister of Infrastructure Belinda Balluku to meet them at the airport. She then told journalists that theirs was a strike, it was against the law, and that it’s not the government’s responsibility to increase their salary but Albcontrol’s.
She said they wanted their salaries back which, according to her, were decreased last year “from €4,000 to €2,300” a month. The minister said their salaries are very high compared to other Albanians.
Balluku said this was a coup d’etat and turned to the President, asking him to give a public statement on the issue.
Rama then accused the President and opposition MP Sali Berisha of inciting air controllers to a strike in order to block the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Following a call by the President for air controllers to resume work and for the government to sit in dialogue with them, Rama accused Meta [and Berisha] of attempting a coup d’etat.
“You are one of the two agitators of this mad blow, in your relentless attempt to overthrow the government and the state!” Rama tweeted.
MP Berisha replied that Rama was attempting to divert attention from financial abuse at Albcontrol.
President Meta announced he will give a public statement later this evening on Rama’s accusations.
The Prime Minister said air traffic controllers will face penal charges for putting the country’s security at risk.