Cyprus Mail

Our View: Air traffic controllers holding the country to ransom

CYPRUS’ air traffic controllers are probably the most spoilt workers of the entire public sector which is an astounding feat when we consider the privileged work-life enjoyed by under-worked public employees. Could they be more spoilt than state school teachers who work for only half a day, for half the year? Difficult as it might be to believe, they are, and, as if this were not bad enough, they are constantly using their power to wreak havoc with air traffic to extract more benefits from their employer.

As has been widely reported the government has been spending an additional €1 million a year on the controllers so they would do the work they were already being paid very well for. The one million was paid as a bonus – over and above the overtime pay they received – last year and will also be paid this year to reduce the delays – among the worst in the EU – in the Nicosia FIR (flight information region).

The government had made a commitment to the EU to reduce the delay per flight to 1.5 minutes from close to three minutes. When the bonus was offered in 2014 the delay came down from 3.15 minutes to 1.6 per flight.

From 2013, when public sector wages and overtime pay had been cut the government air traffic controllers had been working to rule because of the fall in their earnings – the average overtime pay earned by controllers annually was about €40,000. They were demanding that their earnings returned to the levels before the cuts, a demand satisfied by the government with the ‘bonus’ million which was conditional on flight delays being drastically reduced. The blackmail worked.

The government is currently in the process of setting up a state-owned company – the Civil Aviation Authority – that will take responsibility of the air traffic control, but it is difficult to see what will change. The same controllers will be hired by the new company and in negotiations their union is demanding all the benefits they enjoyed are preserved by the new regime so what will change? The some 50 controllers will still hold the country to ransom causing delays in flight times whenever they decide they want higher overtime rates or fewer working hours.

The answer is not to set up a state company, but to hire and train another 50 controllers, whose work terms would include shifts and no overtime pay. The savings on overtime would not only cover the pay of the new recruits but also diminish the power of the old controllers to behave in the greedy, arrogant and irresponsible ways they have become accustomed to.

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