French air strikes: why are the unions walking out this time?

French air traffic controller strikes: why are the unions on the rise?

Paris Orly Airport, one of the airports affected by the strike

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Holidaymakers and travellers face ongoing travel misery as air traffic controllers in France walk out en masse. 

The industrial action has seen more than 100 flights, with Ryanair, British Airways, and easyJet services all heavily affected. It's just the latest action in a six-month period of strikes. 

But the real question is: what's the beef? 

In a sense, the reasons are similar to those that sparked the tube strikes in London. The French government under Francois Hollande and several of the ATC unions have been involved in a long-running dispute over pay and staffing numbers. 

From the point of view of the unions, they feel outdated equipment is affecting their capacity to meet performance targets, and also the rate of staff turnover is currently 65%.

This current strike is thought to be a part of the united stance the unions are taking on the labour reforms being forced upon French workers by Prime Minster Manuel Valls. They view the reforms as an assault on hard-fought workers’ rights. 

They might be taking a stand, but it's needless to say the casualities of this action - the airliners and their customers - are mighty peeved. The airliners who have had to cancel flights have blasted the action. 

EasyJet have expressed their "disappointment" at the action, while a British Airways spokeswoman said: "Yet again the French air traffic control trade unions are causing unnecessary frustration and disruption for customers.

"We continue to urge the French government and the trade unions to resolve their issues so that customers can go on their holidays and business trips without these frequent threats of strike action hanging over them."

Ryanair has called for the European Commission to get involved, with its head of communications, Robin Kiely, savaging the strike. 

He said: "It's reprehensible that Europe's consumers repeatedly have their holiday and travel plans disrupted or cancelled by the selfish actions of ATC unions, who use strikes as a first weapon rather than a last resort."

It remains to be seen how the dispute will play out. But for now, and potentially in the future, all attempts to rebuild bridges have ground to a halt.