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It’s not about the money, says ATC union as strike vote continues

written by Jake Nelson | April 9, 2024

Airservices ATC staff in Melbourne’s control room. (Image: Jake Nelson)

The air traffic controllers’ union has hit back against what it says are suggestions by Airservices that potential strike action is solely in pursuit of a pay rise.

Civil Air members are voting until 1 May on whether to take protected industrial action, which may include work stoppages and bans on overtime and ATC training. The union says staffing levels are “critically low”, and has called out what it says is a “toxic” culture that shows little sign of improving.

Airservices has stood by its previous statement that seemed to imply Civil Air is using safety issues as a fig leaf for a campaign to secure a larger pay rise, which the union denies.

“We must emphasise that any suggestion that this action is solely in pursuit of a higher pay rise is factually incorrect,” the union said in a statement.

“CASA has determined, on multiple occasions, that Airservices was in breach of regulations relating to staffing levels, supervision, and safety processes relating to the highly publicised Retirement Incentive Scheme.


“There have also been hundreds of airspace and tower closures (approximately 800 per year against a pre-pandemic average of less than 10 per year), and Commonwealth Minister Catherine King is on record about these staff shortages being a reality. This factual evidence is irrefutable by Airservices.”

Airservices, which is responsible for air traffic management in Australia, said in a statement earlier this month that it has “offered a $78 million pay rise comprising 11.2 per cent over three years in line with the Australian Public Service Commission’s recent pay decision, as well as the retention of all current conditions”.

“Civil Air is seeking a 20 per cent increase over three years. Civil Air is now calling on its members to vote in a ballot seeking approval for a campaign of industrial action in support of a number of claims that would cost an additional $140 million on top of our offer,” a spokesperson said.

“As an industry-funded organisation, Airservices needs to balance any request to increase our operating costs with its potential impact on the industry and the travelling public,” a spokesperson said.

“The range of potential actions on which Civil Air members will be asked to vote includes work stoppages of up to 24 hours, which could disrupt the travel plans of tens of thousands of Australians and international visitors.”

The government-owned corporation expects more than 70 new ATCs in 2024, with a further 80 to join per year moving forward.

“Airservices has plans in place to increase the number of available ATCs, including by hiring and training new staff, and we have made our team and the union aware of our progress. It is concerning that Civil Air is now proposing to direct their members to refuse to participate in the training of new ATCs, potentially delaying their commencement,” the spokesperson said.

“Airservices will take all available steps to minimise disruptions to flights as a result of industrial action and will work with airlines and airports to maintain safe operations.

“Airservices is seeking to finalise the new agreement without interruption to the travelling public while delivering a fair outcome for our ATCs, so that we can continue working together to safely manage access to our skies and connect Australia to the world.”

Civil Air, however, rejected what it says are suggestions by Airservices that it is only interested in a pay rise for its members.

“Most of our claims relate to non-remuneration matters, yet Airservices has refused to accept them. Suggestions that our claims represent $140 million of additional cost to Airservices are misleading,” the union said.

“Civil Air, in good faith and in order to progress negotiations, has already withdrawn claims that Airservices identified as having an unacceptably high cost or operational impost.

“Our claims make early steps towards addressing the dire workplace environment that our members experience daily.”

According to Civil Air, multiple reports and employee surveys have found staff feel “unhappy, disrespected, under-valued, and often are subject to bullying and harassment”.

“The most recent report from September 2023, outlined that 52 per cent of staff had experienced bullying and 19 per cent of staff had experienced sexual harassment. Only 39 per cent of individuals would recommend Airservices as a place to work (a worrying reduction from the 2020 result of 53 per cent),” the union said.

“Only 29 per cent of employees (amongst air traffic controllers, 19 per cent) agreed that Airservices valued their work role.”

The news comes as aviation rescue firefighters, who are also employed by Airservices, prepare to take industrial action on 15 April.

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