Re: "Traffic Controllers Test Rudd Stance" 30/01/09, pg 3
Dear Sir/Madam,
In response to Louise Dodson’s article “Traffic Controllers Test Rudd’s Stance” in the Australian Financial Review, Friday January 30, I would like to put a differing view. There is no doubt that the economic situation is grave and warrants great attention on all fronts. The calls from Government by both the Prime Minister and his deputy, Julia Gillard, have been couched in terms that plead the case for retaining jobs. I and all of my members support this position.

The simple fact of the matter is that we are in the midst of a critical shortage of Air Traffic Controllers worldwide. In Australia,  we are currently operating, unsustainably, at about 90% of actual functional requirement. We are competing in an aggressive market in which the rest of the world seems to be winning...
The situation has been exacerbated by an employer whose sole negotiating position has been that no salary increases can be made unless the employee pays for it in full. After 9 months of negotiations and a year without any pay rise, the offer from the employer stands at 4.1% per annum with removal of conditions of service to pay for it. Essentially we have been told that there is a fixed bucket of money that will not be increased this time around (from the baseline of the previous agreement). I would also point out that middle management pay scales have not been similarly restricted and a 4.3% pay rise was granted with no conditions trade off required. Senior Executive salaries across the same period have grown significantly above this rate.
Controllers currently enjoy a provision of sick leave as required. Far from being “unlimited” controllers must provide a certificate for every absence above 1 day duration. Above 1 month requires a full medical for return to duty (mandated by government legislation). We are bound by the same standards that commercial pilots must apply and provide roster coverage 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Even with these stringent requirements Airservices quotes internally that sick leave runs at about 9 days per controller per annum. In a roster style that yields an average reduction in life expectancy of 5 years and the most stringent medical standards applied in any industry Australia wide this is a remarkable measure of the professionalism and dedication of our members. Sick leave is not the problem. Airservices has failed in its legislated duty to carry enough staff for real operations.
Examination of Airservices’ annual report will show dramatic increases in profit over several years and similar increase in the amount of traffic handled. Meanwhile real operational staff numbers have decreased and yet there is apparently no productivity element to any of this.
Civil Air has not recommended strike action. In fact we specifically excluded it in discussions with Minister Albanese before Christmas. As you are aware, the remaining elements of Workchoices provide stringent procedural limitations upon how industrial action might be taken and amongst these is a secret ballot listing every possible type of action. Civil Air seeks to progress its claims to an agreed and negotiated outcome with Airservices. Any action taken will be framed to limit impact upon the economy and travelling public.
When the mining industry was booming wages prices rose accordingly. In Air Traffic Control the market is very aggressive and I’m afraid Australia simply cannot compete. We have vacancies that are not being filled at a rate that offsets losses overseas much less addresses the current shortages. We are not seeking to make a bad situation worse. To the contrary we are working to achieve a long term solution to a problem not of our making.
Robert Mason
President, Civil Air
214 Graham St
Port Melbourne
Victoria 3207