Which Way is the Wind Blowing? (The Writing on the Wall – Part 3)

In March and April of last year I wrote of “The Writing on the Wall” with respect to the restructure of ATS1At that stage Airservices’ focus was upon developing an efficient structure for ATC. Whether or not the target has been hit is up to history to decide but the recombination of Airport Services and Air Traffic Services is now a fait accompli

On the face of it this has been a good thing. Closer alignment of towers to TCU and Enroute areas that service them (and of course vice versa) mean that operational efficiencies can be achieved and reduction of duplication in administrative structure certainly allows for a leaner operation. On the downside, loss of local administration in many areas has demonstrably resulted in confusion and delays in processing critical paperwork. Probably the biggest observable impact has been in the HR areas with virtually no local HR presence available nationwide. I should correct that. People and Change are only a phone call away in Canberra. They decide, based upon your plea what, if any, local resources will be deployed to deal with your issues. Alongside the divisional changes the primary realignment in ATC has been the transition to the Service Delivery Environment (SDE). The realignment of services into 3 broad service groups, East Coast, Upper Airspace, and Regional, ostensibly allows a focussing of resources upon the service being delivered. Efficiencies are gained in the ability to react within a specific niche of our market to the needs of the customer without having to spread the impact of necessary changes across the ATC environment in toto. Hence issues affecting jet services between Brisbane and Sydney should be wholly contained within East Coast Services and 2 level 3 managers have direct responsibility for this delivery line. I will reiterate at this point a concern expressed by QANTAS over SDE. “If it costs one more staff member it has failed.”

So how is the restructure going? Realignment of functional groups and airspace boundaries has been proceeding for some time with significant cross-training starting to bite. It should be noted that the vast majority of this cross-training burden, as sector groups get realigned into their various SDE, falls upon enroute. Many staff are disappointed at the delivery line into which they have been placed. Many more resent the training impost and more still think it’s just rearranging the deck chairs. Be that as it may it is still “Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes”. At present I (and I freely admit this is my opinion) don’t see the savings balancing costs in transition. Indeed I suspect, by simple virtue of the giving each staff member individuals responsibility for allocating transition costs to SDE and recording these activities in SAP, real transitional costs are being hidden in general operating expenses. This has a twofold effect of artificially inflating “normal” operating costs and, once transition is complete, makes the new environment operating costs appear much better by comparison.

Our managers remain firmly convinced that this places us in a better place over time to meet the business challenges Airservices faces. Whatever the outcome, in this area Airservices has the lawful right to direct our work. Civil Air continues to be engaged in the process and actively involved in critique and analysis of upcoming changes with a view to providing a positive contribution to the industry at large.

So that’s the bit about the environmental stuff – what about the management restructure? The level 3 managers are in place. Offers were made to the level 4 positions under AWAs or ECAs some time ago with deadlines for decisions by Wednesday 25 July. Airservices’ intent to restructure such that a layer of management is deleted, in this case the line supervisor position being rolled into the level 4 position, makes for an interesting proposition. These new ATC Line Managers (ALM) will fulfil all the current operational duties of a Unit Tower Manager and/or Operational Supervisor together with picking up responsibilities that have traditionally belonged with the level 4 manager. In regional towers the ALMs will have to hold and exercise ratings and endorsements on traffic positions, together with their other duties. CATSOAM specifically prohibits this, operating on the 2 out of 3 allowable rule: Pick any 2 out of traffic, supervision, and portfolio responsibilities. In some locations operational supervisors have dropped traffic endorsements but for a significant part of the operation this hasn’t been achievable due to staff numbers. OK, admittedly we’ve always looked at regionals as being different but why? Surely the recommendations out of the BOS Review apply to all operational supervision. Many Operational Supervisors in Centres and TCUs have been holding down line positions simply to keep groups afloat.

The reality is that the CATSOAM amendment has been in place for quite some time but largely ignored in many locations on the basis that it hasn’t been workable.

In locations other than regionals, ALMs will be expected to retain Operational Supervision qualifications and, in specific instances, hold non-traffic endorsements. These might include coord in towers or perhaps TAC/Flow in TMA/TCU locations. What is apparent out of this is that a one-size fits all approach is neither legally compliant, preferable, and in all likelihood nor is it practical. It is my understanding as I write this that Airservices is seeking to reconsider the ALM in regional towers.

The other and perhaps more incendiary issue arising out of the ALM process is the decision by Airservices to offer the positions outside of the existing Certified Agreement. I’ll declare my interest here as I was a successful applicant but ultimately rejected the offered conditions. ALM positions were initially advertised as AWA only. On paper it was a foolproof plan. Following a successful challenge in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, wherein it was ruled that requiring acceptance of an AWA as a precondition of selection rendered the selection process flawed on merit basis, the positions were readvertised. In the new process applicants were selected and then offered an AWA or Non-Union)

Employee Collective Agreement (ECA). This meant that the selection process is merit based because you are selected before being offered the employment instrument.

This may be a line too fine for the average eye to detect but Airservices’ legal opinion is that it is there.

There are a few points worth considering regarding the AWAs offered. The reason for offering AWAs is that it allows for a close negotiation between the employer and the individual employee. This allows conditions to be tailored to the needs of both parties. In reality the AWAs offered had little scope for movement. The base documents were identical in the 30 odd draft agreements provided to Civil Air for consideration on behalf of member applicants. Much has already been written about the specifics of the AWAs directly to those affected and via Civil Air’s website, and Contact. The important thing about the conditions within the AWA is that the document contains the totality of the employment conditions applicable to you. If it’s not in the contractual document it is legally not enforceable. The absence of traditional dispute resolution processes, for instance, leave you with little alternative but action in the civil courts should an issue arise. Airservices has put the proposition that signing the AWA is an important commitment to Airservices and a demonstration of trust. The unfortunate reality is that many staff would in fact be prepared to trust their direct manager but of course you can’t guarantee that this is for whom you will continue to work.

And what of the ECA? The Employee Collective Agreement was offered to give successful applicants an opportunity to remain within a set of collectively bargained employment conditions. The instrument offered contained all clauses of the AWA (and no others) and a reduced salary component. The basis for this was that Airservices loses flexibility gained in the ability to negotiate with employees individually. It appears that most feel that the ECA was effectively the same as the AWA with less money but more signatories. Again, my opinion only, but it appeared to be deliberately so unattractive that an AWA was the only viable option should you wish to accept the position.

So why would Airservices prefer to go this way? Airservices could have offered these positions under the Certified Agreement – perhaps with a Facilitative Arrangement to vary salary and conditions.

Surely a collectively bargained agreement is easier overall than bargaining 100 separate agreements?

Well the view rather depends on where you are standing. In the AWA arrangement Airservices gains all of the advantages of collective bargaining in that they hold all the agreements (in reality all the same to start with) and they divide your ability to bargain as effectively you are out on your own. Perhaps the biggest condition change in all of the offered instruments for Airservices was removal of Principles of Rostering. This is followed closely, I believe, by inclusion of “reasonable” overtime in the total package. The reversion to FAID as a sole limiting factor for what is able to be worked dramatically improves flexibility in Airservices’ access to your labour. The reality is that it’s not in Airservices’ best interest to abuse this flexibility if they want any hope of driving these employment instruments further into the workplace. But, if there is a problem then they will have no hesitation in using the access to labour granted by the individuals signing up. The added effect, deliberately designed into the legislation by government, is that the AWA provides scope for dramatic marginalisation of organised labour – or more simply, it’s designed to break the unions.

So why then would people willingly sign up? Once outside the current Certified Agreement is almost impossible to rejoin it. Under the legislation Airservices cannot include a “parachute clause” that guarantees return to the Certified Agreement within the AWA or ECA. They are prepared to offer return to an agreement that “parallels” the Certified Agreement but this is via what appears to be an unenforceable instrument. The AWA will suit some staff. The primary driver will undoubtedly be money. The cash figure offered, in some cases, is higher than currently achievable and is certainly bundled in a way that offers real incentives with respect to superannuation. People who are not at the top of FPC scales or not currently supervisors gain an opportunity to leapfrog substantially. For staff already on AWAs or common law contracts then they gain, particularly in the ALM case by not having any “at risk” component of salary. Some people simply see this as the only way they can remain at supervisor levels.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it is a fact that people have signed on. A few have appointed Civil Air as a bargaining agent and quite a few more have sought legal advice both from Civil Air and externally. A few have rejected the offers outright. The challenge before Civil Air is how do we (orindeed do we) retain these people as members. Should Civil Air be involved in pursuing, on behalf of members, battles over conditions that Civil Air was not party to? This doesn’t mean that we as Civil Air have to commit our substantial resources to fighting battles in matters in which we have no legal say. It does mean we need to think clearly about what we are going to over the next 18 months.

So back to the question of do we try and service the needs of AWA members, or try and retain them as members at all? The ALMs are about 100 positions. Some of the winners of these positions are alreadyon AWAs or other instruments and some are not members anyway but the reality is that 100 positions are now permanently outside the Certified Agreement. This not the thin end of the wedge. This is absolute divide and conquer stuff.

The provision of Loss of Licence insurance by Airservices as a sweetener for AWA signatories is a classic tactic. Airservices undertook to provide insurance to non-members at a premium of $850 per annum when Civil Air announced our Necessitous Circumstances Fund (NCF). To find an insurer they had to purchase a policy for a minimum number of staff – considerably more than were seeking it. These people don’t need two lots of coverage so they’re asking Civil Air to provide an exemption from NCF under the rules. Remember Airservices has already paid the premium, they have openly stated for years that they wanted out of Loss of Licence altogether. […and the insurer has expressed concern as to whether they will be able to service this market for much longer] By offering the insurance to AWA signatories they have, for some people made Civil Air appear to be ignoring its member’s needs.

Interestingly the management restructuring currently upon us is, in part, driven by responses to staff satisfaction surveys. The flattening of the management structure to allow “clearer and more direct communication” is driven by the needs of ATC staff says Airservices. The ATC restructure continues apace with the technical arm of the organisation in the sights next. It remains clear that whatever the outcome of elections this year it is likely that SDE and management restructure will continue.

As for the incursion of AWAs into our working arrangements it is very clear which way the wind is blowing. The restructure of operational supervision is essentially complete. Restructuring of System Supervisor and Operations Director (with the demise of the Operations Manager position and transfer of airspace responsibilities to CASA under the Office of Airspace Regulation) is currently being planned with a view to creating a new position. The world of Checkies is also targeted for attention.

The informally announced restructuring of SS/OD and Checkies provides opportunity for Airservices to have another bite at the cherry.

From Civil Air’s perspective it is my belief that simply shutting the door on AWA members will ultimately hand the marginalisation of your association to the government on a plate. As always, you are the association. Don’t keep asking “What’s the union going to do about this?” Tell the rest of your association what you think should be done.

Robert Mason, VP Tech (my opinion)