Kuwait Airways resumes flights after strike halted

By HUSSAIN AL-QATARI | March 21, 2012 | 5:45 AM EDT

View of empty Kuwait Airways check-in counters at Kuwait Airport on Sunday, March 18, 2012. Kuwait Airways, the Gulf state's national carrier, extended flight cancellations across its route network into a second day Sunday as it scrambled to cope with a strike by workers. The action by Kuwait Airways employees follows a work stoppage by customs officials that began last week and is blocking food items from entering the country. Workers are demanding higher pay and other benefits. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait Airways planes were back in the skies after workers called off a strike that had grounded the fleet since the weekend, the carrier said Wednesday.

The airline resumed business Tuesday evening and operations are now back to normal, spokesman Adel Boresly said.

The union representing airline workers confirmed that they have suspended the strike for now, saying its members delivered their message by walking off the job.

Government-owned Kuwait Airways began canceling flights Saturday evening in response to the strike by employees demanding higher pay. The walkout grounded flights to nearly two dozen routes, including to regional hubs such as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Western destinations as far away as New York.

The airline shutdown was a fresh blow for a carrier that is struggling financially even as larger Gulf rivals such as Dubai's Emirates and Qatar Airways aggressively expand.

Their strike followed a work stoppage by customs officials that blocked hundreds of trucks from crossing the border. Those employees have also agreed to return to work, said Marzouq Awwad, secretary of the customs workers' union.

A customs union statement published by local media Wednesday said the workers agreed to call off the strike in the interest of the nation. The strike led some supermarket store shelves to run empty and drove up prices on many imported goods, such as dairy products, diapers and fresh vegetables.

"We were approached by parliament members and government officials who promised to reach an agreement within the next week. We have faith that they will not fail us," the customs union said.

Kuwaitis are used to well-paying government jobs and cradle-to-grave benefits that increasingly have become a burden on state finances. Calls for better working terms have grown louder in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

While Kuwaiti authorities have faced sporadic protests in recent months, they have not been as big as the major pro-reform demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world.

Thousands of customs workers and other civil servants, as well as Kuwait Airways employees, launched a similar wave of labor unrest in September and October that temporarily disrupted shipping traffic and threatened the country's vital oil exports.

Kuwait is OPEC's fourth largest oil exporter. It relies on revenue from crude sales to cover the bulk of its budget.


AP Business Writer Adam Schreck contributed reporting from Dubai.