CESI meets Commissioner Bulc to discuss right to strike in air traffic management

On Tuesday, November 7, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger together with a delegation of CESI's member organisation ATCEUC, the Air Traffic Controllers European Union Coordination, met with the European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, to discuss implications of the European Commission's recent Communication 'Aviation: Open & Connected Europe' on the right to strike in air traffic management (ATM).

CESI meets Commissioner Bulc to discuss right to strike in air traffic management

The Communication, published earlier this year in June, proposes to “tackle the limits to growth in European skies” by:

• an obligation by air traffic management trade unions to provide early notification of strikes, i.e. providing notices of at least several weeks  in advance of a strike in order “to enable aviation stakeholders to prepare mitigation plans ahead of industrial action”;

• an requirement for air traffic management staff members to provide individual notification of their participation to industrial action, i.e. a requirement for an individual notification of staff members of at least several days “to allow the management to organise the air traffic and manage the staff upfront of the strike”;

• provisions that overflights of Member States affected by strikes are preserved, i.e. a security of 100% continuity of service for flights crossing the airspace of strike-affected Member States to “reduce considerably the impact on the entire European Air Traffic Management network”; and

• a “protection” of air traffic peak periods, i.e. ruling out strikes during “peak periods of the day and peak periods of the year”.

Concerns over the right to strike

At the meeting with the Commissioner Bulc, CESI and ATCEUC brought forward their concerns that these provisions will indirectly water down the effective right to strike of air traffic controllers and thereby touch an area of core national competence. According to CESI and ATCEUC, the Communication will have counterproductive effects as well. For instance:

• More requirements for continuity during industrial action (so-called minimum service levels, MSL) mean that strikes will increase rather than increase: The rationale of strikes is to have an effect, but to be effective, more and longer strikes are necessary. Countries with low MSL (such as the Netherlands) have almost never seen strikes, whereas countries with high MSL (such as France) frequently witness strikes; and

• The requirement to ensure a continuity of service for flights crossing the airspace of strike-affected Member States will de facto take away the right to strike for all those working in area control centres (ACCs) which often supervise almost only those types of flights.

Questions about the proportionality and priorities of the Communication

ATCEUC and CESI also highlighted that the Communication is not proportional and does not target the real problems of most delays. For example:

• Only 1% of flight delays are caused by strikes. More than 50% are caused by airlines themselves. 23% are caused by air traffic management capacity shortages. More investment in human resources, staff and working conditions can make airspace traffic more efficient. There is a need for a shift from flexibility and fatigue of air traffic controllers towards adequate working conditions and safety.

• According to national legislation, strikes must in any case already be proportional and not cause excessive economic damage. In this context the Communication is superfluous.

Picture: CESI and ATCEUC meet with EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc © European Union 2017