Prez Blog - 11Sep 2008


Perspective (n.)

•1.       a particular evaluation of a situation or facts, especially from one person's point of view

•2.       a measured or objective assessment of a situation, giving all aspects their comparative importance 

•3.       the appearance of objects to an observer allowing for the effect of their distance from the observer


As I write we are 7 years on from a day that changed the world as we knew it, and aviation in particular. September 11, 2001 marked a tragedy of worldwide proportions as we witnessed acts of terrorism that ultimately propelled a significant fraction of the western world into armed conflict with states believed to support those terrorists. On the aviation front the sudden and dramatic impact upon travel patterns drove many operators into oblivion including the collapse of Ansett, and sparked a security regime that becomes more intrusive and expensive on what seems to be a daily basis.

As the world came to terms with a new political and aviation landscape another blow was struck with the outbreak of SARS, initially in the Guangdong province in China in 2002, and escalating through 2003 until over 700 were dead and another 8000 infected. An already paranoid world focussed upon the indisputable impact of aviation as a vector for international propagation of the, at that stage, mysterious disease and many borders closed or imposed stringent travel restrictions yielding another blow to our industry.

In 2005 a hurricane called Katrina drove across the Gulf of Mexico decimating New Orleans and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless. A reeling American economy struggled to cope whilst also suffering loss of production from damaged oil platforms and a national budget haemorrhaging  trillions in the "War on Terror". These compounded the already significant impact of conflict upon oil producing Gulf States with spiralling oil prices forcing aviation (along with most economies) into yet another crisis.

Yet despite all of this portions of the aviation industry have continued to flourish. Virgin and Jetstar, established in the midst of these still unfolding dramas, have become firm and expanding features of the South Pacific aviation scene. New entrants Tiger and Air Asia Express are finding market share. QANTAS, continually restructuring, belt-tightening and passing fuel costs on to the consumer has nonetheless continued to deliver record profits to its shareholders. Airservices itself also enjoys record profits whilst continuously delivering lower costs to its customers.

There are signs of recovery. Fuel costs for airlines have reduced by about 30% since July. Passenger numbers, and importantly for Air Navigation Service Providers, movements are on the increase. May 2008 marked the busiest month on record for Australian aviation. On the down side we are also in the grip of a worldwide, and much felt at home, shortage of controllers. Airspace closures are commonplace and base rosters with blank shifts, or at times lines, abound.

In this environment Civil Air is currently attempting to negotiate a Collective Agreement. Look back and you will see that the 2002 - 2005 agreement was a post September 11 agreement in which the employer argued that it was unethical for us to seek improved conditions when industry was hurting so much. The 2005 - 2008 agreement was negotiated in a post SARS industry that then suffered the Hurricane Katrina hammer blow. Negotiations were further pressured by the spectre of industrial reform from a government seemingly intent on ensuring Australia's economic competitiveness with China and India by reducing standards of living to match. And finally the current negotiations are framed in an environment in which we are constantly reminded that fuel costs are such that a fair deal for ATC and support staff is unfair to the economy at large.

Greg Russell, CEO of Airservices Australia, this week provided an update on negotiations in which he stated that the Civil Air "Vision" document had been costed at $100 million and would wipe out profit for Airservices. Given Airservices own (much disputed) staffing numbers this costs out at better than $100 000 per employee. Clearly this is untrue. Mr. Russell has also stated that negotiations with other unions in the current Collective Agreement processes are proceeding well and that he hopes "... we will be able to make the first increases in salaries payable under those new agreements as soon as possible." The not too subtle pressure being applied is that ARFF and Corporate staff will enjoy pay increases in the near future whilst ATCs move backwards at CPI. The missive paints ATC staff as holding Airservices at ransom and their irresponsible claims threatening the "national interest".

During negotiations Airservices has steadfastly refused to discuss any salary aspects of the agreement protesting that it can only be part of a total package. Civil Air negotiators are happy to consider this but are not being given the total package to negotiate upon. The chief negotiator for Airservices, Peter Medlock, has stated that salaries will not be discussed unless there is a genuine chance agreement will be reached. Mr. Medlock, there is no hope of a successful negotiation if you won't actually negotiate.

To date Airservices has managed their side of negotiation with a technical strategy focussed on outcome at the cost of the relationship. They have willingly exposed what they want in this agreement and indeed on some items have gone as far as to say that an agreement is not possible without certain specific items. Each of these items, that have been discussed and released to you by way of Flash and internal correspondence, are reductions in conditions of service. What we are being asked to do is agree without knowing what value has been assigned to them.

Meanwhile significant reworking of the ATC environment under the ATC Reform programme offers Airservices considerable productivity enhancements which it appears will not be considered as productivity for the purpose of negotiation. Traffic numbers are up. Fuel costs are down. Profit is at record levels. Proposed more flexible work and licensing arrangements are supposed to allow more to be done with less staff. ATC staff are in worldwide demand with actual labour shortages across the globe. Australian staff are leaving in record numbers for positions across the world including United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Germany with more interviews being held in Australia every 2 months or so. Management continue to paint the problems in staffing as being generated by the staff themselves despite evidence of significant overtime being worked to try and keep the system afloat.

Clearly the confrontational strategy of disrespect, antagonism, disenfranchisement and ostracism demonstrated by Airservices towards 1000 of its staff is doing nothing to improve an already abysmal employee - employer relationship. Mr. Russell, we are willing to negotiate for a real outcome that meets the needs of the staff and addresses the issues that are crippling Airservices. In the national interest you and your team must be part of the solution rather than taking full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes approach that is currently being demonstrated.

Robert Mason
President, Civil Air
11 September, 2008