Air traffic controller strikes could hit Belgium and affect Europe this autumn. The news comes just as tour operators and some destinations are looking to expand their offer and manage footfall by stretching out their holiday seasons into the fall.
Aviation24 is reporting a surprise industrial strike warning that has been issued to Belgian-based skeyes, the “authority of airways” that provides navigation and traffic services to Belgian airspace.
5 October deadline
On behalf of air traffic controllers at skeyes, three labour unions have submitted the strike notice, due to expire on 5 October 2023. ACV Transcom union warns that “If no solutions are found by then, actions and strikes can be initiated in both the entire and partial Belgian airspace.”
At the heart of the strikes lie a controversial “personnel planning mechanism” first implemented in 2019 on a supposed one-year trial basis, that was then prolonged because of Covid-19.
Accusing skeyes of “completely illegal practices” in terms of personnel planning, the unions had previously agreed with the air authority on tighter ‘fatigue management’ rules, including building necessary rest periods into air traffic controllers’ schedules.
Other elements of the dispute involve ways to ensure a fair distribution of workload, as well as providing air traffic controllers with greater predictability in their work schedules, allowing for better work life balance and planning, and improved air traffic safety protocols.
Already too expensive
Beleaguered skeyes has already been told this summer by the European Commission that it is “too expensive” with a poor relative performance, Travel Tomorrow has reported. Meanwhile, the state-owned company has appealed to the State for “budgetary” intervention.
What’s known as an “autonomous public company”, the air authority’s prices are ultimately regulated by Europe, so if they do not take the “corrective measures” Europe has called for, the matter may be taken out of their hands.
Other staff relations problem looming
Part of the issue, according to the Commission’s scrutiny, is that skeyes’ economic efficiency is hampered “by the cost of its early retirement scheme”. Under the scheme, controllers are allowed to end their careers five years before Belgium’s statutory retirement age.
With controllers already up in arms about working conditions, work-life balance, and predictability, changing the early retirement age does not look like a task that will improve management-employee relations.