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Prospect union ballots members on industrial action over Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) air traffic control plans

By Gregor White

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Prospect members in air traffic control at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) are to be balloted on industrial action over the company’s continuing plans for centralisation.

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

Members are voting on the action because, the union says, they believe Hial's plan to centralise air traffic functions in Inverness would have a devastating effect on the communities affected, reducing safety and damaging the economy.

The union says it would also effectively result in compulsory redundancies, with many staff reluctant to move from their local communities.

A recent report commissioned by Prospect identified a range of problems with Hial's plan.

It said:

  • The remote towers programme will take at least £22m (£2.2m annually) of economic benefit from island economies
  • Hial’s own scoping study identified the remote towers option as “the most difficult and risky to implement”.
  • Hial have only published a redacted business case for the proposal. Implementation costs have already almost doubled to £33.5m with lifetime costs £70m higher than the status quo.
  • Hial has failed to learn the lessons of a National Audit Office report into IT procurement by the Scottish Government, with engagement and staff buy-in in particular well below optimal.

Safety and operational concerns have been raised including, the breakdown of data transmission systems, cyber-security, weather assessment, impact on human performance and managing the need for ratings for more than one tower in a single shift.

David Avery, Prospect negotiator, 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.”

Prospect indicated earlier this month that its members were willing to take industrial action over the plans.

At the time Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said the company was "very disappointed" that they were considering going down that route.

"Such action is disruptive for our communities, businesses, travellers and airlines at any time, but is even more so during the current pandemic and at a time when the aviation industry is severely impacted by the effects of the virus," he said.

He said Hial had suggested to the union that an external facilitator could be engaged to help resolve matters and refuted claims by the union that around 50 staff stood to be made redundant under the plans.

"From the outset, we have been clear that Hial has a no compulsory redundancy policy and we are exploring all options with our colleagues,” he said.

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