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ATM strikes in Germany and Finland averted


German air navigation service provider DFS has successfully sought a court order to block a strike proposed by Gewerkschaft der Flugsicherung (GdF), the Germany air traffic control union. In earlier negotiations, DFS said it would regarded some of the unions demands as illegal and considered the strike action as "disproportionate". The State of Hesse employment court agreed and blocked the action.

The GdF union appealed the court ruling but cancelled its planned industrial action, as it was unsure if the appeal would be heard before industrial action was scheduled. The GdF union had called for a six-hour strike on 05-Aug-2011, between 06:00 and 12:00. The strike threatened major disruption of airline operations in Germany, potentially affecting 2500 to 3000 flights. The knock-on from halting operations in German airspace would affect traffic around much of Europe.

DFS handles over 9100 flights per day. Some 52% of the aircraft movements the ANSP handle are international arrivals/departures, while 37% of movements are overflights. Traffic is up 5.6% for the year to date, partly because of the effect of the 2010 volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.

DFS IFR aircraft movements: 2010 and 2011

The union represents approximately 3400 of the 5900 air traffic controllers and associated professionals at the German ANSP. Its relationship with DFS has been fraught over the past few years.

The union and DFS have been engaged in wage and working conditions negotiations since earlier this year, with relations steadily declining since Jun-2011, when GdF again began to threaten strike action. GdF stated it has no alternative but to strike, as it feels that its claims are not being taken seriously. A total of 95.8% of 2600 balloted members at the union voted in favour of strike action.

GdF is seeking a one-year wage deal with a 6.5% remuneration increase and changes to working conditions and supervision arrangements. DFS’ stated in Jun-2011 that the wage claim is incompatible with its cost reduction the targets to be achieved in compliance with EU regulation and countered with an offer for a 3.2% wage increase this year, followed by an increase of 2% or at least matching inflation in Nov-2012. GdF considers this insufficient and believes it would lead to an actual decrease in real wages.

DFS has a history of successfully appealing to German courts for legal injunctions to halt industrial action by controllers at the 11th hour. It also has the option to seek compulsory arbitration, which could also prevent strike action from being held. Strikes threatened in 2007 and 2005 have been avoided by going to arbitration, while a planned strike in 2010 was averted by the ash-cloud crisis.

Finnish air traffic control strike averted

While Germany still has controller wage negotiation on its hands, Finland has finally managed to come to an agreement on controller pay. The Finnish Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (SLJY) and the Service Sector Employers' Association (PALTA), representing Finavia, have accepted a proposal put forward by National Conciliator, Esa Lonka.

The agreement staves off proposed two-hour spot strikes at Finnish airports, which were to begin on 02-Aug-2011. Affected airports would have included Helsinki-Vaata, which handles around two-thirds of aircraft movements in Finland. No flights were expected to be cancelled, but flight rescheduling and delays were anticipated.

Under the agreement controllers will get a wage increase of 2.9% on 01-Aug-2011 and further increase of 2.8% in Aug-2012. Additionally, a one-off lump-sum of EUR500 will be paid, in compensation for the drawn out wage negotiations. Extra bonus payments will be made available for controllers and staff working at certain airports, potentially affecting up to 50% of staff at Finnavia.

Controllers had been seeking an increase of 5-6%.

The two sides also agreed on working condition issues, specifically break times. The issue had proved a difficult one to negotiate, with PALTA reportedly reluctant to come to an agreement on break scheduling. Both sides had rejected earlier proposals by the National Conciliator.

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