Slovak Air Traffic Controllers agree to return to work

In Slovakia last week, air traffic controllers left their work stations and as result Slovak skies were inaccessible for most commercial aircraft. For six days, a fiery debate was conducted between management of the state-owned Air Traffic Control Company along with the Ministry of Transport against the striking controllers. The dispute seems to have been ended by an agreement for an audit.

BUGAR: "I really don't understand why the Minister spoke about salaries because as we have already said before, this strike is not about salaries."

Spokesperson for the strikers, Pavol Bugar, claims that it's for safety reasons that most air traffic controllers were on strike across Slovakia. Eighty of the one hundred and twenty air traffic controllers were on strike for six days. The strikers want Roman Biro, their boss, to step down. They claim that Biro has failed to ensure adequate safety levels and working conditions. Roman Biro is the director of the Air Traffic Control in Bratislava.

What do you think about their demand about you to step down?

"Look, the point is not easy to answer. I'm open for an audit. As I said, we had an audit of our National Supervisory Authorities last year. We got a certificate based on the criteria of European Union. So, it means, at least, the processes in the company are OK. Of course, we can find some problems, or problems in communications, or relationships, somewhere, but the system as such is working properly. From this position, or perspective, I'm not ready to step down because I am convinced that we have a safe and high quality of performed services."

The air traffic controllers demand that standards be observed thoroughly, claiming that although these are formally being met, they are often violated in practice. Tibor Horoni explains. What do you think -if auditors come- what do you think they will find?

"They will find any problems which were here in the past and which still occur. For example, the schedule, what we are most complaining about. 48 hours a week, it is the maximum what the law permits, but there is a problem because the law says that a week is counted from Monday zero o'clock until Sunday 23:59. But, just tell your body that a week is not seven continuous days, but the week is from Monday to Sunday. It regularly happens that the air traffic controllers work in seven continuous days more than 60 hours, but regarding the law because the law tells that the week is from Monday to Sunday - it's within this 48 hour which is limitation."

At a press conference last Wednesday, Slovak Transport Minister Lubomir Vazny said that he would ask the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (known as Eurocontrol) to carry out an audit. If the auditors were to find that the strikers' claims are true, then the Minister will let off the director. After settling on the eventual audit in which the air traffic controllers will participate, they went back to work. Victor Reviliak explains.

"When you check our schedule, you will not find anybody who works from Monday to the end of Sunday more than 48 hours. But from, say, Wednesday to Tuesday, it can be 60, or 58, or 62, or so. It might sound funny, but this is true. They built the schedule to be according to the law between Monday and Sunday. It's 48 or less. "

Roman Biro thinks that the reason the strike happened is that the Air Traffic Controllers are in a monopoly environment. He explains.

"Monopoly environment is not good regulated. It can create such tensions because these people have a lot of power and, in case they decide to do something, they can achieve (it). But, of course, it is against the public, against some person, and might be sometimes even against law."

The strike cost a total of about 58,000 EURO a day. Departing and returning flights to Slovakia are again in full operation. Emilie White, Radio Slovakia International.