Writing off the Balance - 25 December, 2002

Will air traffic controllers’ salary to be raised, after “odd” staff is discharged?

Of course, Russian authorities could not ignore a message like mass strikes, including hunger-strikes, of air traffic controllers. In “normal” countries, strikes like that could cost to the whole government their chairs. Russia is, as well-known, not quite a “normal” country, though even here the authority cannot neglect the people’s opinion expressed in this way. Successful solution of such crises usually depends on the authority management’s level. It should be admitted, that within the years of economical reforms, Russian functionaries seem to have understood what is “the art of management.”

Today, negotiations between hunger-striking air traffic controllers whose interests are protected by Air Traffic Controller Trade Union Federation (FPAD) and Russian Transport Ministry and State Corporation of Air Traffic Organization should be carried. The state representatives seem to have perfectly prepared themselves for the negotiations. In Russian media, there are already reports about Transport Ministry and the State Corporation which are said to have made sure of the whole air traffic organization system requiring fundamental reforming.

According to the newspaper Izvestia, yesterday,  Russian transport minister Sergei Frank invited in his office the leader of Civil Aviation State Service, Alexandr Neradko and the State Corporation of Air Traffic Organization head, Boris Kushneruk. They discussed for several hours what they could do in this situation and how to leave this exclusive circle of constant lack of money and reciprocal blames. All the more that the number of the hunger-striking air traffic controllers grows in expense of new participants, while the first strikers are gradually removed from their duty by doctors. There is a real probability that in a day or two, air traffic in Russian sky will fully stopped.

It should be admitted that state services leaded by the transport minister seem to have found a quite smart way to settle the situation. The reform of the air traffic organization was decided to be carried out according to classical recipes. In other words, to raise the air traffic controllers salary, the number of the controllers will be reduced. In particular, the state intends to propose to FPAD to reduce the use of radio engineering means of air traffic control where there is no high intensity of flights: three or four flight in 24 hours. Therefore, there is not necessity in these areas to control air traffic for 24 hours. This allows to reduce the staff, in other words, to discharge “odd” air traffic controllers and to raise the salary of that ones who will not be discharged.

The officials of Civil Aviation State Service and State Corporation of Air Traffic Organization deny the reform project is a reaction to the air traffic controllers demands. The reforms matured long ago, they state. Though what hindered them from introducing this mechanism earlier? Before this critical situation took place?

In the meanwhile, Politcom.Ru reports Transport Ministry and State Corporation of Air Traffic Organization officials have long ago agreed about excluding some airport services from the list of the State Corporation enterprises, to stabilize the situation. In other words, independently on the results of the negotiations with the air traffic controllers, the “restructuring” will be started. Somebody would consider this step to be just a “reform,” while somebody else would call it a trivial asset excluding. Though, the sense is the same: what is superfluous, must be cruelly written off from balance. So, one day, the indignant air traffic controllers could find out they no more belong the State Corporation and could claim to some airport director, who can decide nothing. (There is such a method).

The Trade Union officials were glad with this “method.” And this is understandable: when workers act as a solidary mass, any menace of the administration cannot frighten them. Though, when the strikers are split, everybody of them reminds his wife and children waiting at home and starts to fear: what if namely I will be discharged, while my colleagues remain? Managers in other countries know these methods very well, while Russian managers so far must invent them.

Nevertheless, the Trade Union bosses seem to have recognized the reality of the menace for them and gradually give up. For example, the Russian Air Traffic Controllers Trade Union Federation official, Nikolai Plotnikov said to the Izvestia newspaper the Trade Union is flatly against this method. According to him, one plane is enough to cause a dangerous situation in air. He does not find this to be a problem that air traffic controllers supply only several flights a day. “They are professionals, so they are any time ready to any emergency situation,” – he said.

Today, the Trade Union officials state the air traffic control structure fully guarantees the flight security and it needs no reforms. As for the today’s critical situation, that are the State Corporation leaders, who are guilty of it. They do not take care of the workers and do not prepare new personnel. While, the average age of air traffic controllers in Russia makes 45 years. So, who will guarantee the flight security tomorrow?

Though, the hunger-striking air traffic controllers seem not to believe in their own arguments. It is not profitable in Russia, to reduce the whole propaganda effect of the action to complaints about bad administration. Bosses will remain the same. If even they are replaced, new bosses could be worse. For they are paid to “manage.”  While for today’s Russia this means, workers must work for a small salary and not to protrude. And if they are not satisfied with the situation, they should be replaced by some other workers with the same small salary. This is clear already for the leaders, too.

While tomorrow, this rule must be learned by the hunger-striking air traffic controllers, with whom nobody has negotiated yet.

Dmitry Slobodyanyuk

Translated by Vera Solovieva

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Author`s name Margarita Kicherova