Airport privatisation row: ‘Workers’ right will be respected’

Johannesburg, February 14:

South African transport minister Jeff Radebe has reassured Indian workers that their rights would be respected when a consortium led from here begins working on the modernisation of the Mumbai airport.

“I want to assure all concerned that we will not disregard or seek to bypass either established labour relations systems in India or engage in activities that undermine the legitimate rights of workers,” Radebe said. It was an obvious reference to a strike by employees of the Airports Authority of India this month, which was resolved only after the intervention of prime minister Manmohan Singh. Radebe was speaking at a media conference hosted by the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) and industrial conglomerate Bidvest. The two companies, together with Hyderabad-based infrastructure group GVK, have been the successful bidders for the modernisation of the Mumbai airport.

The consortium has been granted a 30-year long contract with an option for a further 30 years. During the contract periods, ACSA will own 10 per cent of Mumbai Airport, Bidvest 27 per cent and GVK 37 per cent, while the Indian government will hold the rest.

Radebe said the first foreign venture by the state-owned ACSA marked ‘a new era’ for the company, which runs all major South African airports and hopes to also invest in African countries soon.

ACSA managing director Monhla Hlahla said further discussion would now concentrate on finalising the transaction and preparing for the transfer of the airport, adding that the consortium would spend $1.5 billion on upgrading runways and terminals.