Changed Working Conditions Under Privatisation

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Changed Working Conditions Under Privatisation

38TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Santiago, Chile, 15-19 March 1999

WP No. 158

Changed Working Conditions Under Privatisation


At the Toulouse Conference in 1998, delegates asked about the effects of privatisation and commercialisation of air traffic services in MAs around the world. It was agreed that the subject of monitoring the effects of Privatisation in ATC would be placed upon the work programme for SC4 during 1998/1999. As a result of this, EVPP agreed to take responsibility for this subject and to co-ordinate this WP with Werner Bopp, the IFATCA LO to International Organisations in Geneva. Werner had presented a very detailed WP in Toulouse, evaluating the process of privatisation and commercialisation.

This WP is compiled from the responses received by the EVPP and provides a general appreciation of how the effects of privatisation have affected air traffic controllers. In as much as the responses are limited, they relate to 3 main Regions of IFATCA. It is also interesting to note that they reflect very similar opinions and support one another in all the main areas that are quoted. It is, therefore, possible to consider this WP as an accurate assessment of the current situation in some MAs and provides some useful guidelines for MAs facing privatisation.

It is further suggested that SC4 continues to monitor this matter on a yearly basis and that MAs provide an individual response to a short questionnaire at their annual Regional Meetings.


Existing IFATCA Policy

IFATCA Policy on Privatisation/Commercialisation is as follows:

“ The safety and quality levels of the Air Traffic Services system shall not be compromised by privatisation / commercialisation.

IFATCA should monitor the effects of privatisation / commercialisation on ATCOs working conditions in co-operation with the ILO.

Where ATC is run by a private company, such establishment is even more important since re-employment possibilities are thus even more difficult to obtain.”


The following definition of Privatisation has already been adopted for IFATCA use:

“Privatisation of Air Traffic Control refers to the process by which the functions and/or assets of Air Traffic Control are transferred from a government department to either the private sector or to a Company or Corporation owned either partly or fully by the government, but operating independently of total government control .” [Coopers & Lybrand]


EVPP Questionnaire

The following questions were asked of MAs that had already experienced Privatisation/Commercialisation:

The overall effect of changes to employment:

  1. What changes had occurred to staff/management relationships, staffing levels, remuneration, working conditions and rosters?
  2. Were things better or worse than expected?
  3. Is job security a problem now?
  4. Is profit related pay enforced?
  5. Is Performance Management employed? If so, what Performance Indicators are used?
  6. If shares are available in the new company, are controllers able to purchase shares at a discounted price?

The impact privatisation / commercialisation has made to the provision of the ATC service:

  1. Is the ATC system seen to be more efficient and/or safer?
  2. Has there been an improvement in equipment?
  3. Is funding a problem for new staff/equipment?
  4. What advantages / disadvantages are you aware of?

Is the ATC service Privatised or Commercialised?

  1. Who are the main shareholder(s)?
  2. Is the private company independently regulated?
  3. What safeguards are employed by your Government to ensure safety is maintained?
  4. Is profit demanded at the expense of the service?

What are your views now on Privatised/Commercialised ATC services?

  1. Is the idea of privatisation good?
  2. What advice would you give to MAs contemplating Privatisation?
  3. What would you do differently now if you could renegotiate contracts?
  4. Is existing IFATCA Policy on Privatisation/Commercialisation valid?

Management Relationships:

  1. Have these improved or not?
  2. Were Management Consultants employed during the Privatisation process?
  3. If so, did they interview ATCOs and/or their trade union/professional body?
  4. Has your Association’s situation improved or not since Privatisation?
  5. Are there any key factors that have been directly affected by Privatisation?

Responses to the Questionnaire

The following key responses have been collated from the responses to the EVPP Questionnaire.

What Air Traffic Controllers hoped for:

  1. Better funding for the ATC Service – Equipment/Salaries.
  2. Better recognition of Professional status and skills.
  3. Improved working conditions.
  4. Improved decision-making processes for development of ATC.
  5. Options/ability to obtain stakeholder/shares in business.
  6. Co-operative agreements and interaction to improve business efficiencies.

What Air Traffic Controllers feared:

  1. Profit before safety.
  2. Loss of security of employment.
  3. Greater emphasis on performance and efficiencies.
  4. Competitive tendering for ATS services and support services.

What actually happened:

The Positive aspects:

  1. Partnership projects, creation of staff and design teams to integrate development plans.
  2. Yearly bonus directly related to the percentage of air traffic increases.

The Negative aspects:

  1. Yearly bonus affects individual staff at different locations as recognition is given directly to actual percentage increases in traffic at individual locations.
  2. Outsourcing seen as a means of reducing costs.
  3. Funding is not readily available unless staff threatens action.
  4. Considerable changes and alterations to existing systems and work procedures. Some changes have made the system more efficient – others not.
  5. Privatisation has had no positive influence on safety or efficiency.
  6. No transparency of accounts. Now private ‘monopolies’, whereas previously open to public scrutiny and accountability.
  1. Management Consultants employed rather than seek staff assistance to evaluate new proposals and employment changes.
  2. Management Consultants seen as ‘disruptive’ elements that propose a plan of action which management/staff have to wrestle with and try to make work. Consultants then move on – leaving confusion and disruption of management/staff relationships behind.
  3. Need for an independent, robust, regulatory authority to impose conditions for safety management.
  4. Volatile staff/management relationships.
  5. Staffing reduced since privatisation (118 ATCOs instead of required 140).
  6. Staff reductions have lead to restrictions on leave-taking. Sickness controls have been imposed to enable enough numbers of air traffic controllers to be rostered.
  7. Lower salaries applied to new staff than to existing air traffic controllers.
  8. Managers are more cautious, because they are now on individual contracts. They are more worried about their own career than those they manage.
  9. “Things are worse than expected !”
  10. “The main focus is now profit”.
  11. Reduction in investment. Cost driven ‘ethos’. Safety function compromised.
  12. The process for making decisions for the implementation of new equipment and recruiting new staff is worse than the previous ‘State’ system.
  13. There is an intention to introduce Performance Management.
  14. There is a demand for profit – not just to break even or cover costs.
  15. No benefits apparent to operational air traffic controllers.
  16. Managers now have engineering backgrounds rather than air traffic control. They seem to have a belief that technology will provide the answers rather than humans.
  17. New Managers have no proper insight into the operation of the control room.
  18. Managers seem to be easily lead by manufacturers and their sales ‘pitch’.
  19. Staff/management relationships have deteriorated. Senior managers likely to now come from Commercial sectors and try to impose changes that are very often in contradiction to agreements already in place.
  20. There is a philosophy that by simply reducing the number of controllers the company can control costs and increase profit.

Advice to any MAs facing Privatisation:

The following advice was provided to assist other MAs facing Privatisation or Commercialisation:

  1. Try and achieve as many ‘goals’ as possible prior to agreeing to any changes to contracts and working procedures.
  1. Develop a career structure for staff progression into Managerial positions.
  2. Strive to ensure that Management adopts safety as its primary goal.
  3. Maintain good communication with Management, so that local intervention with disputes is possible.
  4. Seek advice from other MAs that have been privatised.
  5. Seek advice from the ILO or ITF.
  6. Be aware that Management will attempt to discuss all issues relating to social conditions.
  7. Establish a strong Professional Association. Members will have to act with determination to maintain existing working conditions.
  8. Adopt a tougher stance from the outset to ensure that working conditions and previous agreements are not eroded or dispensed with.


Although the MAs who responded to the EVPP questionnaire are located in different regions of the world, the overall effect of privatisation/commercialisation has been similar. What is immediately apparent, is that controllers perceive that there are considerably more disadvantages than advantages.

The need for better preparation, prior to discussing changes to working and social conditions, is paramount. Staff Associations may have to act with determination to preserve existing agreements.

The role of Management can change and new Managers may have little empathy for the controller’s task. Managers are themselves under new pressures and seek cost-savings as their primary goal. A lack of professional knowledge does not enable new Managers to relate to ATC and hinders controller/management relationships.

The need for an independent regulatory organisation, with authority to oversee and implement conditions and regulations, is seen as absolutely essential to ensure all safety- related aspects are established and maintained.

Although existing constraints on the funding of the ATC system may be lifted, it does not always follow that resources will be made available to improve equipment and working conditions. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that controlling existing costs, in order to make a profit, is now the prime motivator. This may have the effect of reducing staff or services.

Wherever possible MAs should attempt to establish a good working dialogue with any new Managers or employer organisation. Every attempt should be made to use that relationship to work in partnership with the employer to review existing agreements and to ensure that outside influences, such as Management Consultants, do not prevail.


It is recommended to Conference that this working paper be accepted as Information Material.

It is recommended to Conference that SC4 continue to monitor the impact of Privatisation and Commercialisation in MAs and that this item is placed on the work programme for SC4 for 1999/2000.

Last Update: September 28, 2020  

March 10, 2020   719   Jean-Francois Lepage    1999    

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