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Transport / Air traffic controllers to vote on industrial action

The ballot comes amid frustration over HIAL plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

AIR TRAFFIC controllers at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) are to be balloted on industrial action over plans to centralise services in Inverness.

The action, if approved by members of the Prospect union, would take the form of action short of a strike commencing 4 January 2021, with individual one day strikes taking place after that date.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said industrial action is an “outcome we hope all parties will seek to avoid”.

Prospect said members are voting on the action because they believe the plan to centralise air traffic functions in Inverness would have “devastating effect on the communities affected reducing safety and damaging the economy”.

The union said it would also “effectively result in compulsory redundancies with many staff understandably reluctant to be uprooted from the communities they serve”.

Locally the plans mean that air traffic controllers at Sumburgh would be asked to relocate to Inverness, with services carried out remotely.

Remote aviation services would also be in place in Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

A recent survey of air traffic staff working for HIAL showed that 71 per cent of respondents supported strike action in relation to the controversial plans.

The remote tower programme has also endured criticism from local authorities and politicians.

Prospect negotiator David Avery said: “Prospect members do not want to have to take this action but HIAL’s continued refusal to look at the evidence against remote towers has left us with no option but to ballot.

“Prospect members’ primary concern is the potential impact of imposing the remote towers project on remote communities.

“It is our intention that any industrial action will cause as little disruption to local communities as possible and will start after the holidays so as to avoid any impact on Christmas plans.

“HIAL’s intransigence in this matter is frankly baffling however we are seeking mediation with ACAS in the hope that a way to avoid industrial action can be found.

“Should industrial action be approved there will be no impact on emergency cover.”

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Having been made aware of the Prospect survey that canvassed air traffic controllers on industrial action, HIAL wrote to Prospect and suggested independent mediation.

“The union has now accepted and we will agree a date for discussions to take place.

“The threat of industrial action is likely to create uncertainty and frustration for communities, our colleagues and airline customers and that is an outcome we hope all parties will seek to avoid.

“From outset we have been clear HIAL has a no compulsory redundancy policy which was agreed by the Scottish Government and the trade unions, including Prospect, in 2018.”

The Scottish Government-owned company previously said that the remote technology will “help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future”.

It said the plans will “modernise the way airspace is managed and, importantly, deliver safe and secure air navigation now and in the future”.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said “staff in air traffic control have been clear from the outset about how damaging centralisation will be”.

“It will hurt island economies and our lifeline service, and HIAL’s own consultants said centralisation to Inverness is the most costly and risky option,” she said.

“Yet HIAL continues to push on with their vanity project. HIAL must listen and engage openly with staff to resolve this dispute.

“The Scottish Government has so far left them to get on with it. It’s time ministers stepped in to try to resolve issues before distrust between HIAL and staff becomes irreparable.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021