Since the beginning of the year, strikes from air traffic controllers (ATC) in France have affected hundreds of thousands of flights, not only those departing or arriving in the country, but also overflights, that only pass over French airspace en route to their destination. Numerous calls have been made by airlines to the French government and the European Commission to intervene and now a new law aimed at limiting the impact of the ATC strikes has just been adopted by the French Parliament.
1. Balanced text
“It is a balanced text which aims to better organize service on strike days by respecting the right to strike and giving guarantees to passengers (traffic forecast) and controllers (advance notice for requisitions)”, Senator Vincent Capo-Canellas, who proposed the law, said. “This text makes it possible to avoid the disorganization of air transport and flight cancellations without many strikers. Traffic will be proportional to the number of strikers, which guarantees social dialogue based on the mobilization or not of employees.”
This protective and balanced text makes it possible to put an end to an asymmetrical system at the origin of a disorganization of the public service.Clément Beaune, French Minister of Transport
What the law requires in concrete terms is for individual people “whose absence is likely to directly affect the performance of flights” to declare whether or not they will be participating in a strike at least 48 hours before the action takes place. While unions already had to announce a strike at least 5 days before, there was no requirement for each employee to indicate participation in the action or not, making it impossible to predict the real impact the strike would have and impeding appropriate preparation for the minimal disruption of passengers.
Now, that an accurate estimate of the participation to strikes will be provided, “proportionate measures” for a “minimum adapted service” can be implemented. Moreover, knowing the extent of the strike beforehand should allow airlines to adapt their schedules, thus preventing last minute cancellations.
While smaller unions oppose the law, concerned it would hinder the controllers’ right to strike, the largest ATC union, SNCTA, welcomes the new rules, mentioning it will protect against the “instrumentalization of the right to strike for unreasonable use”. Airlines have also welcomed the law, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), calling it “good news for passengers and airlines traveling to or over France”.
On the other hand, the law does not stipulate anything for the protection of overflights. Airlines have repeatedly asked the European Commission to intervene in the protection of overflights. On 20 March, Ryanair even launched a petition calling on the Commission to force France to protect overflights during the ATC strikes. The petition asks for EU overflights to be included in the French minimum service laws; for Europe’s other ATCs, overseen by Eurocontrol, to manage flights over France during French ATC strikes; and for a mandate that French ATC unions engage in arbitration instead of strikes.
In only 5 weeks from launching, the petition already had over 600,000 signatures and, at more than 1.5 million, O’Leary himself came to Brussels in September to submit the ECI, where he received a very warm welcome in front of the Commission.
Ryanair started the petition as a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), a mechanism established in 2007 by the Treaty of Lisbon to allow citizens to be directly involved in the development of EU policies. A petition can be started by anyone and if it gets 1 million signatures from citizens of at least 7 different Member States, the Commission is obliged to seriously consider the proposition, but not to accept its demands.