Friday 28 April 2017

Why are French air traffic controllers striking – and when will it end?

French ATC Strikes

Photo: Deposit
Photo: Deposit
Demonstrators take part in a protest and hold a placard reading "Labour reform, muzzled freedom" against the French government's planned labour law reforms, on May 19, 2016 in Strasbourg. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Passengers wait in front of a screen during an air traffic control dispute at Paris' Orly airport. Photo: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Hugh Morris

French Air Traffic Controllers have staged over 50 strikes since 2009. Why are they so aggrieved, and what happens next?

Why are French ATC unions striking?

Broadly speaking, the most recent strikes have been down to a long-running dispute between the French government and a variety of ATC unions over staffing and pay.

The unions say that a reduction in the number of employees risks putting the public in danger. The rate of replacement of staff has fallen from 80pc to 65, they claim, adding that out-dated equipment is affecting their ability to meet performance targets.

However, two of the unions, the SNCTA and UNSA, seem to have agreed a deal with the government on pay and hours (hence a strike earlier this month was called off).

The most recent strike was part of overall French union opposition to labour reforms being forced upon French workers by Prime Minster Manuel Valls.

Oil and other workers have also protested against reforms designed to bring flexibility to the French labour market by making it easier for bosses to lay off staff as well as enforce overtime and lower pay in times of trouble.

More: What happens if my flights are cancelled?

What effects do the strikes have?

It varies according to where in France they are held, and whether any Irish or UK airlines fly there. Ryanair and Aer Lingus services as varied as Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, Nantes and Bordeaux have all been cancelled in recent weeks. 

The DNSA (direction des Services de la Navigation aérienne) usually tells airlines what percentage of flights they need to cancel ahead of each strike period, with past occasions averaging around 20pc. This means that the likes of Ryanair, British Airways, EasyJet and Monarch are regularly forced to cancel scores of flights that affect thousands of passengers.

How do airlines feel about the strikes?


Miffed doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Ryanair has repeatedly called on the EU to intervene. It says the unions are holding European skies to ransom, and it wants other nationalities of ATC to be allowed to operate flights during times of strike. It wants French ATC unions to engage in binding arbitration instead of strikes to resolve their problems.

Thomas Reynaert, managing director of A4E (Airlines for Europe), which represents, among others, KLM, EasyJet and Ryanair, has called the industrial action "disproportionate".

Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the holding company of British Airways, has previously called the unions' targeting of the Easter holidays "cynical" and urged the British Government to work with the French to minimise the impact of strike action.

The Irish Travel Agents' Association (ITAA) has also expressed its support for Ryanair's petition, which is seeking one million signatures to persuade the EC to take action against the ongoing disruption.

Is a resolution in sight?


Perhaps; with the aforementioned two unions having reached a deal and the labour reforms likely to be pushed through soon, now that they have the backing of more moderate unions.

“The menace of ATC strikes will disappear once the general anti-labour law reform mobilisation disappears,” says The Daily Telegraph Travel’s France expert, Anthony Peregrine.

“Strangely, I’d say that could be pretty soon – for France has an honourable tradition that almost all political and industrial-strife life goes on hold for the summer months of July and August.”

“Potential strikers don’t want to jeopardise their holiday, or holiday pay. I’d wager, then, that this might be the last ATC strike we’ll see for a couple of months, at least. A couple of months which, I’d also wager, the French government is hoping will be long enough to take the steam out of social unrest, get the law in place and then move on.

"It’s a classic French political tactic – turn out something heavily controversial just before the hols – and I wouldn’t bet against it working this time.”

Am I covered by my travel insurance?

Your policy may pay out a small amount for very long delays (usually over 12 hours), but not usually enough to pay for more than a meal or two.

A few policies have cover for a “consequential loss”, such as a hotel booking made independently. You will need to check the terms and conditions which apply to your policy directly with your insurer.

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