Ireland's air traffic controllers are considering a Labour Court recommendation ahead of a series of meetings today in Dublin, Shannon and Cork. Last night, the Labour Court issued a recommendation that will hopefully resolve the ongoing row over staffing levels, rosters and overtime.
The IMPACT union said there were some positive elements in the recommendation. It will be seeking a meeting with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) today to discuss the implications. Earlier yesterday the controllers called off plans for a 24-hour strike and an official overtime ban.
Labour Court Chairman Kevin Duffy says it is not his role to decide appropriate staffing levels in the air traffic control service. But a number of recommendations have been made to settle the dispute.
Personally I do not understand why this problem has arisen in the first place, and why it seems so difficult to sort it out. Modern Ireland is no longer a poor country, and especially since the "Celtic Tiger" boom civil servants are among the top earners in our society. And the air traffic controllers earn even more than most of the other civil servants, since they receive very generous overtime bonuses. They do have a difficult and very responsible job, no doubt, but so have many other people on much lower pay.
So I think it is not appropriate for the air traffic controllers to keep winging and holding the rest of the population - or at least those who use airlines for travel - to ransom. Their recent threats of strike action and their refusal to fill in for sick colleagues (see my entry from 17 February) is not acceptable at a time when we are told by the government to be prepared for less prosperous times. Sitting in a privileged position and knowing that without them no air traffic can happen, this relatively small group of highly paid specialists is blackmailing the whole country.
It is time to look at the wider picture and sort the problem out, once and for all. Unfortunately the current government is hampered by incompetence and widely occupied with the personal problems of Bertie Ahern. I am also not sure if Noel Dempsey, currently Minister for Transport and as such responsible for the matter, is able and willing to act decisively. What we need is a politician who can call the bluff of the air traffic controllers and get things back to normal.
And if that should appear to be impossible, I propose to take the whole air traffic control system into the responsibility of the Department of Defence, to be administered by the Aer Corps (which does not have a lot to do these days anyway). After all, the national airspace is also a matter of security and defence, and in many other countries the whole matter of air traffic - military and civilian - is exclusively in the hands of the national airforce.
I am well aware that Ireland is not a militaristic country, and that such a step would cause some upset, first and foremost from the air traffic controllers and their union. But it would be worth a step to consider, and if only as a potential stick to threaten the stubborn and arrogant air traffic controllers. (And I am writing this as a member of a trade union.)
We are a small country and an island, and as such we depend on air traffic for our industry, export and import, as well as tourism. It is not acceptable that all this, together with the national interest, stability and prosperity is put into jeopardy by a small group of well-paid people whose greed has driven them to irrational demands. For once I hope someone in the government will act in the national interest instead of wondering how to fill their own pockets most easily.
The Emerald Islander