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Strike looms at Turkey's top airline

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 1:14 PM EDT, Tue May 14, 2013
Turkish Airlines aircraft parked at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, March 16, 2013.
Turkish Airlines aircraft parked at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, March 16, 2013.
  • Negotiations with the country's main aviation workers union have collapsed
  • Strike against Turkish Airlines could go into effect at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday
  • Airline says its management failed to reach an agreement on a labor dispute
  • Union leadership says it is has been negotiating salaries and rest periods for long flights

(CNN) -- Turkey's flagship airline is facing the threat of a strike after negotiations with the country's main aviation workers union collapsed.

The head of the Turkish Civilian Aviation Union, or Hava-Is, said the strike against Turkish Airlines would go into effect at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday.

"All of Turkish Airlines' functions will stop, no passenger flights, no cargo services, no connecting flights," Hava-Is president Atilay Aycin said in a phone interview with CNN.

"All sectors starting with the tourism industry who are doing business with Turkish Airlines will be affected," Aycin added.

Hava-Is says it represents 14,000 Turkish airlines workers.

Turkish Airlines published a statement Tuesday, acknowledging that its management failed to reach an agreement on a labor dispute "due to uncompromising and imposing approaches of the Union."

The airline urged its employees to "disregard" the proposed strike. It also accused Hava-Is of "trying to plunge Turkish Airlines and its employees into an indefinite strike adventure which will benefit nobody."

Hava-Is' leadership says it is has been negotiating salaries and rest periods for long flights, which the union's president says do not meet international standards.

Though recently privatized, Turkish Airlines is 49% government-owned. Its fleet of airplanes and schedule of routes have expanded dramatically in the last decade, as Turkey has enjoyed a period of solid economic growth.

The Turkish government has developed a pattern of using the airline as an extension of Turkey's "soft power." The airline has extended routes to new countries, in conjunction with bilateral diplomatic overtures from Ankara.

But the airline has also been caught up in the culture wars that frequently pit Turkey's ruling pious Muslim elite against more secular segments of Turkish society.

This month, Turkish Airlines attracted international attention when the company announced it was banning certain shades of lipstick and nail polish among flight attendants.

Turkish flight attendants see red over lipstick policy

Outrage spilled into social media and newspaper columns, as secular critics accused the airline's management of imposing conservative religious values on the company.

A similar uproar emerged after the company announced it would stop serving alcohol on a number of domestic and international routes.

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