A 24-hour strike staged by airport workers has stranded thousands of passengers in the South American nation of Chile.

The strike, which comes just days ahead of the nation’s Independence Day holiday on 18 September, is estimated to affect nearly 70,000 passengers.

Said to be the largest shutdown in the Chilean history, the strike was initiated by nearly 4,000 workers including air traffic controllers, ground support staff and other airport personnel.

The strike has been organised to demand better retirement benefits.

"The strike affects all the country’s airports, which will only handle arriving flights and emergency air traffic."

Civil aviation authority chief Maximiliano Larraechea was quoted by the news agency as saying: "No flights will be taking off today. The strike affects all the country’s airports, which will only handle arriving flights and emergency air traffic."

Larraechea added that the country’s airports will only handle arriving flights and emergency air traffic during the strike.

Airlines such as LATAM, Air France and Sky Airlines, which operate in the country, had contacted affected customers to reschedule their departures free of charge, AFP reported.

Chile Economy, Development and Tourism Minister Felipe Cespedes condemned the strike calling it ‘illegal’ and urged workers to start negotiations.

Cespedes was further quoted as saying that workers "have all the opportunities to strike a constructive, positive dialogue, that doesn’t affect the functioning of a critical service affecting thousands of tourists and Chileans who were unable fly today."