The Writing on the Wall (part 1) 

The recent restructure of Airservices may seem a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic but most people realise that the previous structure had significant flaws.

Chief amongst these for our members was duplication of infrastructure between Airport Services and Air Traffic Management.

the_writing_on_the_wall_1_0001.jpgIn an extension of the decision some years ago to fully transfer internal costs between business units this essentially set Airport Services and Air Traffic Management in competition with each other and severely hampered the ability of Airservices at large to draw upon multidisciplinary approaches to addressing many professional and technical matters.

The pattern had been seen before between Brisbane and Melbourne Centres - each dedicating resources to develop training packages and not sharing content unless a GL code was attached to the request. Result? Lots of reinventing the wheel and a significant parting of the ways in standardisation that we’re still trying to come to grips with. So we’ve had the restructure. Airport Services and Air Traffic Management are now under a single General Manager Air Traffic Control. New level 3 managers have been, or are being appointed with strange and exotic titles such as East Coast, Upper Airspace and Regional Services. We’ll get a closer working relationship between towers, TMA and Enroute and; well - the rest of organisation is just set dressing right? WRONG.

From Airservices own press release on March 1st, “Chief Executive Officer Greg Russell said the restructure was transparent to airline and airport customers with no impact on the provision of air traffic control, aviation rescue and fire fighting or technical and engineering services.” This reiterates Greg’s press announcement of the restructure in November 2005 in which Greg also stated, “We will implement a new structure over the next few months that maintains safety as a priority but also streamlines operational groups and increases the focus on core business.” So basically the 300 odd jobs that have just been cut will be “transparent” operationally.

But this is somewhat tempered by a somewhat less than unequivocal position in the television media at the time of announcement in which Richard Dudley stated that the changes “…did not affect operational areas at this stage.” [my underlining] Greg Russell, in an article on the restructure in The Australian on March 3rd also stated that “…a review of Air Traffic Control was already underway” and that Airservices would consult with Civil Air once it had more details. Given the consultation with unions representing some of the 300 staff already facing job losses this appears to be a less than generous offer. CPSU was not of aware of impending job losses until they saw the press releases just like the rest of us.

So where are the people going from? For starters Finance and HR are being “centralised”. Maybe there are efficiencies to be gained in bringing finance together although Corporate Finance has made some interesting pricing decisions over the past few years to say the least. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that Airservices pricing plan for the next 5 years is with the ACCC now and that your certified agreement cycle is only 3 years.

These are the guys who decide exactly what the salary component of any new certified agreement is going to be at least a couple of years before we ever get to a bargaining table. The Airservices negotiating team never moved, at any stage, on the salary component of the current certified agreement. Airservices glibly trotted out the “…cynical grab for money” lines when discussing certified agreement negotiations in public and constantly quoted the enormous salaries of up to 200K per annum.

Whilst this may be manifestly unfair, the changes in the Federal Industrial Relations Act last year have very effectively removed many of our bargaining chips. Greg has publicly stated his position of reducing costs to industry – something we’ve done every year for much of the last decade. How much more blood can be wrung out of this particular stone? If you’re not sure which direction we’re heading I suggest you have a look at and read of the negotiations currently underway between the US ATCs and the FAA. As for HR, well there’s no way to sugar coat this. There are, no doubt, those amongst us who’ll be pleased to see the back of some the HR management team. Again there’s no doubt that it’ll be cheaper to reduce the local HR presence and locate the decision making in Canberra.

Consider the situation where the manager who makes the decisions no longer has to deal with those decisions in person. At the moment we have a distinct advantage in being able to argue our cases face to face with the decision maker. Soon that person will be a disembodied voice on the phone or someone at the other end of an email conversation. Given the focus on staffing levels in operational areas last year I guess it’s good to see Mr. Russell doesn’t see the axe falling across ATC (at this stage). Strangely though, another area that’s becoming extinct is staff planning. Again, we remove the ability to budget and plan at a local level. This still isn’t a direct impact on operational areas though is it?

ATCC – the training wing of ATC is being decimated. This loss of positions directly affects operational capability and means job losses for our members. Reduction in our training capability smacks of a bottom line approach that looks at all our “non-core business” areas as pure overhead without ever considering that they are in fact, for the most part, actually investment. Perhaps Greg’s team should be considering the costs of not carrying out effective training and operational support? Given that the rumour mill is rife with figures of 10% less staff (which is about 300) and reduction in direct operating costs in the order of $40 million it would appear that the night of the long knives is far from over.

There are enough veiled threats in the various press releases and articles already out there. The sweetener of VR; “…and involuntary redundancies, in accordance with provisions in the applicable Certified Agreements” is already causing some members to reconsider plans for retirement. Whilst Airservices has advertised for expressions of interest in VR, this hasn’t been extended into operational areas. A brief examination of the age profile would indicate that reducing ATC numbers shouldn’t be a problem with natural attrition.

I might be way off but it appears to me there’s no real need to put money into ATC VRs when the staff will go of their own volition over the same 15 month timeframe Greg keeps mentioning. Frank Baldwin seemed to have many of the same sentiments in restructuring the CAA when he was around. So there will be no impact on operations Greg? Seems to me the writing is already on the wall.

Robert Mason – VP Tech      March 2006