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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vnukovo Technicians Strike Over Arrears

Some 300 engineers and ground technicians for No. 4 carrier Vnukovo Airlines walked off the job Wednesday over unpaid wages and continued their strike Thursday, vowing to "fight to the end."

It is the second time in as many months that the disgruntled employees have taken action to demand their salaries, which haven't been paid since August. Last month's strike included 1,000 workers and ended after just one day when Vnukovo's interim general director scrambled to pay most of the workers.

For the 300 that are still waiting, however, there is no relief in sight.

Alexei Sapkin, a spokesman for the airline, said in a telephone interview Thursday that his company's directors "recognize the wage arrears" and that the striking employees have not been paid since August. "They will be paid sooner or later, but I cannot give concrete dates," he said, adding that the average wage at the company is between 5,000 rubles ($178) and 6,000 rubles a month, and workers are owed a total of 3 million rubles.

Sapkin was quick to assert that the company was operating on schedule and that no delays had been reported at Vnukovo Airport, where it is based.

Sapkin also said that Vnukovo was already negotiating with the workers, but the head of the union representing them, Yury Novikov, said that "no one from the company's administration has approached us with an offer to start negotiations."

Novikov also said that wage arrears were much higher than the 3 million-ruble figure put forward by Sapkin. Novikov said the strike would continue Friday if their demands were not fulfilled. In addition to the wage arrears, engineers are also lamenting over the state of the airlines itself. "Vnukovo Airlines, one of the biggest carriers in Russia, is at the stage of ultimate collapse," the union wrote in its official statement.

The strikers said that only five of the company's roughly 50 planes are being used, and that as a result of its 1995 privatization the airlines is 43 percent owned by financial-industrial group Russian Aviation Consortium, which failed to attract much-needed investment and drove Vnukovo to the point of ruin.

"In the past 1 1/2 years we have seen four general directors come and go and the position is vacant at the moment," the union's statement said.

The last general director to go was former Aeroflot executive Alexander Krasnenker, who was credited with bringing at least some relief to the company. His first deputy, Alexander Klimov, took up the interim position in October.

"Payments became regular with Krasnenker and we thought the prospects of the company were looking good," said union official Alexander Tveritinov.

Sapkin said that Vnukovo itself is owed money by several organizations, with the Defense Ministry leading the way with debts of 160 million rubles.

"[Vnukovo] used to be an excellent airline. I had hoped that Krasnenker would solve its problems, but when he left it looked almost like the end of the road for the airline," said Moscow-based independent aviation analyst Paul Duffy.