Why staff at Eurocontrol was preparing to strike

News
Eurocontrol

The announcement of industrial action at the NMOC by the Union Syndicale delegation at Eurocontrol on the 5th of July is suspended after long negotiations and intense letters exchanged.

This is good news, but it is not yet the end. Our members support that we will further discuss the outstanding issues raised in the original announcement through the regular consultation process. Our members also expect us to ensure and monitor the implementation of our demands.

For those of you who wonder, why our representatives in Eurocontrol needed to issue a pre-warning of industrial actions, here is the explanation.

For the sake of safety for all

At the beginning of June 2023, European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued its Safety Information Bulletin which focuses on the possible risks emerging during Summer 2023. It recognizes the strong recovery of the aviation industry in the summer of 2022 after two years of significant traffic reductions due to the Covid Crisis. While EASA predicts that travel demands and traffic levels for summer 2023 are to be significantly higher than in 2022, EASA also highlights significant challenges in having sufficient qualified personnel, availability of aircraft, spare parts, and traffic slots to cope with the increased demand.

EASA identified some risks that should be taken into consideration including :

  • Ineffective management of change
  • Shortage of operational and technical staff (not limited to flight and cabin crew)
  • Various aspects of cyber-attacks
  • Loss of knowledge, expertise, and transfer of experience following staff turnover
  • Ground handling training programs disruption
  • Missing suppliers and low availability of parts
  • Lack of time to properly train staff
  • Disruptive passengers
  • Capacity issues

EASA is concerned about potential safety risks emerging from, or being amplified by, a potential lack of qualified personnel, particularly in combination with commercial pressure. This in turn could lead to increased levels of fatigue among the aviation personnel with potential consequences on safety.

EASA is not the only agency that raise a potential issue in the aviation industry. Last year, Eurocontrol, an Agency which handles European air traffic, warned that 2023 could be the most challenging year of the last decade due to the Ukraine conflict.

It is not taking long before the warning materializes, and the predictions come true. After an intense meeting with Network Manager management on the 4th of July 2023, Union Syndicale Bruxelles representatives in Eurocontrol concluded that management is not interested in a proper social dialogue and continues to act in bad faith.

On the 5th of July 2023, Union Syndicale in Eurocontrol issued several demands in the interest of the Agency, the Network Manager, its stakeholders (operational and Member States), the flying public at large, and employees of the Agency. Their main demands were:

  • Immediate recruitment of a number of staff as indicated well before the meeting of the 4th of July 2023 to ensure the service delivery in the Summer of 2024 (Union Syndicale had been raising the issue since 2018 and predicted the current shortage correctly making industrial action lawful)
  • A detailed strategic workforce plan
  • A fundamental change in management or management behavior.
  • A fundamental change in the way iNM is organized and managed to recuperate a possible chance of success. The most fundamental part of 400+ Million EURO System replacement program has been missed by going to market without a clear specification of what it is supposed to do.
  • A review of the grade structures to come to an equitable System.
  • A roster System that is based on agreement and not unilaterally imposed.

Based on ILO guidance, USB Eurocontrol decided to progress with industrial action if their demands are ignored.

“We will announce industrial actions 5 days in advance clearly identifying their nature and length. We hope that we can limit our actions to a minimum based on negotiated progress on our demands so we can focus again on the external expectations we have on us while serving the aviation community”.

 

After the pre-announcement, USB delegates were contacted by representatives of the new DG of the Agency to attempt an amicable solution to prevent industrial action.

Although there was some speculation about the potential impact of industrial action no serious comment could be made as such an industrial action had not occurred with comparable traffic levels and USB was forced for the first time to take this step.

After three weeks of intense discussions, there has been an agreement in principle which contained inter alia an increase of recruitment for 2023 which would be the maximum the Operations Centre could realistically process. This will not resolve the situation but it is a start, in combination with an acceptance to cooperate on future staffing needs.

Also, a way forward on roster and standby issues was part of the agreement. The remaining issues, considering their complexity, were moved forward to the social dialogue.

When the members of USB EUROCONTROL working in the NM Operations Centre agree to the proposal, the pre-announcement of industrial action is finally withdrawn on the 4th of August.

Hopefully, the consultation process will create better and healthy working conditions in Eurocontrol for the sake of all.

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