Crikey seems to continue to take a sound interest in matters relating to fatigue in Air Traffic Control and in Aviation in general - probably thanks to the interests by contributing editor Ben Sandilands.
The debate about high levels of fatigue amongst Australian Air Traffic Controllers continues today in the media - dare we say it, but is this about to become a political issue in the Election we have to have? -:
A grumpy air traffic controller writes:
As a follow up to recent stories that have appeared in Crikey about fatigue in the airline industry, the public will be pleased to know that it’s about to get a whole lot worse....
In 2005 Melbourne initiated dual person coverage on air traffic control
night shifts at a total cost of 4.1 FTE (full time equivalent) staff. This
equates to about $450K per annum. The costs of the dual coverage was offset
by reduced sick-leave (but it's not exactly quantifiable) on night shifts
and thus reduced overtime expenditure required to cover that sick-leave (the
preferred method for self-managing fatigue); although there probably still
is a small cost overall. But we are taking safety not money right?
You may hear that sick-leave is trending up; this is probably equally
proportional to the increases in overtime being worked, the plummeting
morale, the never ending corporate restructure and the threats to move the
workforce onto AWAs; being cognizant that the supervisors were effectively
forced onto them earlier this year with a "Godfather Offer" (an individual
AWA, a collective AWA which is worse than the individual offer, or a
reduction in classification).
Among the reasons for introducing dual coverage at night was to facilitate
"real breaks" on night shifts, like going to the toilet and watching TV or
napping while not on "the console". The reality of the "dual coverage" was
that the shift was split between two people who worked for about 2.5 hours
continuously without a break and the other got a reasonable (paid) sleep.
This no doubt reduces fatigue and subsequently increases the staff's ability
to attend other rostered shifts and other "requested" overtime shifts. The
average roster goes 3pm-11pm, 1pm-8pm, 6am-1pm, 11pm-6am (the same day as
the 6am start), then two days off (with an overtime shift thrown in) then
repeats; with some variations to have a 36 hour week on average.
Anecdotal evidence suggest that sleep doesn't only occur in the Melbourne
stand-down rooms (known as "the cells", due to design, size and temperature)
but also on Brisbane operational consoles (and other ATC locations that work
night shifts), where dual staffing was never introduced because the "right"
staffing numbers were never established.
A memo was issued after previous stories appeared in Crikey saying don't
sleep at the consoles, and the controllers are required to be "fit for duty"
when attending work, which includes not being in a state of fatigue. Problem
Effective from the next set of rosters, some commencing at the end of this
month, the dual coverage in Melbourne Centre will be reduced to introduce
part of the "corporate restructure" along "Service Delivery Lines". This
project is moving people around, creating huge training requirements and
thus leaving less staff with the right qualifications and creating huge
amounts of overtime, for no apparent reason, other than the corporate desire
(it's the plan). It's certainly not for safety; controllers can't ever see
it saving a buck either.
At the moment Australia is officially short of 29 operational controllers.
After the new overseas recruits have been taken into account (most on VISA
457 entries), it's actually 45 right now; cause they aren't operational yet
and won't be for some time.
We have something like 80 ATCs who are not fit for operational duties for
numerous reasons, like maternity leave, long term sick leave, long service
leave etc (but you'd expect that over a 980 workforce, right?). Some
controllers will be the only "qualified" controller rostered to work alone
for seven hours; which is hardly consistent with Airservices own fatigue
management policies or OH&S guidelines.
Are they going to put unqualified controllers into the chair, who can
monitor frequencies and take requests then find the controller who is
qualified, who's on a break, to make the decision? Or just tell the pilot of
the aeroplane "expect that in XX minutes" when the qualified controller
returns to duty? It's akin to a brain surgeon being relieved by a bowel
surgeon while he goes for a leak and a walk. Well, he is a surgeon; it's not
like we put the cleaner in charge is it?
What does the regulator (CASA) say? Well, apparently nothing. Does the
public know, do pilots know, does the minister know that un-Endorsed (=
unqualified) air traffic controllers will be looking after you, at some
stage between Adelaide and Cairns particularly, on night shifts, or at any
other time Australia wide, when we are too short to cover the consoles, on
the basis of short term break relief?
Anyone want to rethink those late night departures to Asia or on the Pacific
routes (before getting over the ocean) or the international early (pre 8am)
Meanwhile, more and more aeroplanes are flying carrying more and more
passengers; and Tiger is about to start, plus add on some A380's (which
require extra spacing compared to what they replace) and some "Jungle Jets"
that Virgin Blue is adding to their fleet. Nero, keep fiddling please,
everything's fine. NOT!
Follow Up Comments (in Crikey) - 18 October 2007
I refer to the article in yesterday's edition about Air Traffic Control. You may hear that sick-leave is trending up; this is probably equally proportional to the increases in overtime being worked, the plummeting morale, the never ending corporate restructure and the threats to move the workforce onto AWAs; being cognisant that the supervisors were effectively forced onto them earlier this year with a “Godfather Offer” (an individual AWA, a collective AWA which is worse than the individual offer, or a reduction in classification). I was one of the successful candidates for the above positions. I was given the choice of signing an AWA, which gave me a base pay "rise" of about $15K. However in return I would lose or significantly reduce my sick leave, annual leave, job security, redundancy, and there would be no overtime payments, even though extra hours are expected. Taking into account all these things, it would actually be a pay drop in real terms of about $5K a year. The collective bargaining agreement was less pay ($15K) and identical conditions. When I rang the WorkChoices hotline, their response was that if I was coming into the company with that offer, it would be deemed coercion, and therefore illegal. However, because I am being offered a promotion, I can always say no and stay on my current conditions. That apparently is all above board! So I now have a choice, being deemed the best person for the job, I can either sell my soul to the company, or let someone else, not as suitable as me, willing to sign the AWA, take the position. This is how they treat their prospective managers, so you can imagine how concerned line controllers are, and why morale is at an all time low.