NZALPA’s Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) received media attention throughout the Pacific recently with their resistance to replace their colleagues in Fiji while the Fijians undertake action in response to unsuccessfully requesting to re-enter negotiations about their employment terms and conditions.
ATCs at both of Fiji's international airports are in dispute with their employer over unfair pay and working conditions. Contingency procedures are in place over Fiji’s airspace and at least one commercial operator had suspended flights into Fiji.
However, Fiji Airports have since told the Fiji Times that 25 of the 34 ATCs have returned to work.
The paper also quoted the spokesman for the ATCs, Kolokesa Kini, saying that while the majority had opted to go back to work, they would continue to push for salary and working conditions to be improved.
Mr Kini said the returnees have had to sign letters of apology to their employer.
NZALPA’s Air Traffic Control Director, Kelvin Vercoe, told media that New Zealand ATCs were extremely disappointed at the on-going dispute, particularly the toll it would be taking on the Fijian ATCs, as it was deemed an offence to take industrial action under Fiji employment law.
NZALPA was also concerned about the impact on safety and reliability of the ATC services provided in Fiji airspace while the dispute continued.
Despite this, NZALPA also understood that the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF), Fiji Airways Limited and Fiji Link declared that there were no disruptions to schedules, and that operations continued to be safe at both Nadi and Nausori Airports. Vercoe said these statements were not in line with information NZALPA was receiving from their colleagues in Fiji.
NZALPA was also supportive of the Fiji Public Service Association’s (FPSA) call for an inquiry into the situation, particularly as Airports Fiji Limited would seem to prefer to operate using what they refer to as ‘contingency procedures’ rather than put meaningful efforts into the resolution of this dispute through negotiations with the ATCs.
Vercoe said that the ‘contingency procedures’ referred to were actually the activation of the system known as a Traffic Information and Broadcast Advisory (TIBA), which is effectively pilot self-separation of aircraft, normally only used in uncontrolled airspace or during large scale emergencies or natural disasters. For example, a TIBA was implemented in New Zealand for a short period immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes, following the evacuation of the Christchurch Air Traffic Control facilities.
“TIBA is an inferior and inadequate replacement when human ATCs are available to issue clearances and instructions, and provide the necessary monitoring and information for aircraft within Fiji airspace; particularly during critical take-offs and landings at busy airports. ATCs are also able to provide assistance to aircraft in emergency situations.”
Vercoe said that NZALPA’s ATC membership remained standing in solidarity alongside their Fiji colleagues.
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