By Andria Kades
THE cabinet has approved a budget of €1m to encourage air traffic controllers to work overtime and slash overflight delays to half of what they are today.
The proposal, approved for the second year in a row, apparently came from Eurocontrol and concerns 180 employees, according to a Cyprus Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (CYATCA) official.
Currently, flight delays are at 2.79 minutes, one of the worst rates in the EU and the aim is to reduce that time to 1.5 minutes. “There was and there is no other way around this,” other than giving employees this amount, transport ministry permanent secretary Alecos Michaelides told state radio.
He confirmed a report published in Politis that “the government is accepting becoming a pawn in the hands of a small group of employees” and a status quo that allows air traffic controllers to “work for one hour and rest the next” during their seven-hour shift.
CYATCA, however, said they worked six hours and their ‘rest’ was not necessarily an hour, it was just a period of time for them to re-charge so they could concentrate better while at work.
The situation is more likely to change – and improve – once the civil aviation becomes privatised, Michaelides said.
Although they are required to work 163 hours per month, the job requirement nowadays is for 200-220 hours. Following reductions in overtime pay – which had amounted to an average of €55,000 prior to the cuts – employees were more reluctant to agree to come in on a Sunday and thus, delays had worsened CYATCA said.
Air traffic controllers always had the option of saying no to overtime work as “you can’t force an employee to come to work because you don’t want to risk” the safety of all planes and passengers. As it stands, they still have the option to say no, however the money may be an incentive for them to stay longer.
When asked if this was a paradox where some were getting paid more to fulfil their standard job requirements, Transport minister Marios Demetriades said the funding did not come from the state but from airline companies that essentially pay the costs of delays.
“If you are going to have an operation and the surgeon has been tired for the past eight hours, would you feel comfortable? The same applies to air traffic controllers,” CYATCA said.
“Demands on employees constantly increase without there being a sufficient increase in remuneration,” it added.
At the moment, about half of the employees are on a starting pay scale of A11 which is just under €2,400 after income tax, according to the association, while a quarter is on A8 and A12 which are just over €1,700 and €2,500, respectively, after income tax deductions.