Air traffic controllers strike over poor safety measures

In late February 2007, Slovakian air traffic controllers went on strike over the longstanding decline in air traffic safety. They demanded that measures be taken to improve the situation. Following negotiations, the worker representatives reached agreement with the Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecommunications to take the necessary measures to address the problems identified, thereby ending the strike.

Warning strike

On 22 February 2007, air traffic controllers took part in a warning strike from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. against inadequate air traffic safety measures. According to the President of the Association of Air Traffic Controllers (Združenie riadiacich letovej prevádzky Slovenskej republiky, ZRLP SR), Luboš Laurenčík, the workers decided to go on strike due to a longstanding decline in air traffic safety. This deterioration in safety measures had resulted in excessive mental stress for air traffic controllers and had threatened their economic interests. ZRLP SR criticised the present situation, which was not met with a positive response from the management of the Air Traffic Services (Letové prevádzkové služby, LPS).

The strikers asked for improvements in air traffic safety and proposed to recall the director of the state enterprise LPS, Roman Bíro. According to Mr Bíro, air traffic controllers should bear the burden of a work overload. He insisted that their working time is in line with labour legislation and emphasised that LPS management fulfils the provisions agreed in the collective agreement for 2007. The Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecommunications (Ministerstvo dopravy, pôšt a telekomunikácií Slovenskej republiky, MDPT SR) also considered the strike as being unjustified. According to Minister Ľubomír Vážny, the strikers may have wanted to pursue interests other than safety issues, such as higher wages as quoted in a newspaper on 19 February 2007. The strikers rejected this suspicion and declared that their wages were not the motive for the strike; they also insisted that the minister was not properly informed of the real reason for their decision to strike. At present, air traffic controllers have a very high salary which stands, according to available information, at around SKK 200,000 (€5,968 as at 24 April 2007) a month, compared to the average monthly wage in the general Slovakian economy of SKK 17,000 (€455)..

Strike action continued

Since the negotiations regarding the strikers’ demands were not successful, air traffic controllers decided to continue the industrial action for an unlimited period. ZRLP SR consulted with the MDPT SR representatives regarding the options available for putting their demands into practice. Following several negotiations, the strikers reached a satisfactory agreement with the ministry and decided to end the strike. MDPT SR promised to evaluate the air traffic safety system in Slovakia through both national and international audits and to take the necessary measures to address the problems identified by this evaluation. On 27 February 2007, after almost six days of strike action, the air traffic controllers returned to work. Approximately 80% of 120 air traffic controllers operating in Slovakia took part in the strike.

The national audit began at the end of February, while the international audit which is being managed by the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol), has also started in line with the concluded agreement. At present, the air traffic controllers are working but they remain on strike alert. ZRLP SR and its members will decide on their next move based on the audits’ outcome and the actions taken by MDPT SR.

Commentary

At first sight, the workers have succeeded in achieving their initial goals as a result of the strike. Air traffic safety will be investigated and the ministry has promised to recall the director of LPS if there is a reason to do so. Before the strike, MDPT SR announced that it considered taking legal action against the unlawful nature of the strike – as it was not organised according to the Act on Collective Bargaining – and the possibility to reclaim losses, for which LPS would be responsible.

Nevertheless, during the negotiations with the representatives of MDPT SR, the strikers reached an agreement that a legal action would not be submitted to review the legitimacy of the strike by a court. On the other hand, representatives of air traffic controllers promised that they would not demand a wage increase in the collective bargaining round for 2008. In doing so, the strikers responded to the misperception of MDPT SR that their strike was motivated by wage demands.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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