A strike that sounds like a swan song for French air traffic controllers. Several minority union organizations in the sector, including Force Ouvrière and the CGT, have filed a strike notice for Monday, November 20. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), the administration which regulates air traffic, announced that a quarter of flights will be canceled from Paris-Orly and Toulouse-Blagnac airports, as well as 20% of flights departing from Bordeaux Mérignac and Marseille-Provence. “Despite these preventive measures, disruptions and delays are nevertheless to be expected,” indicates the DGAC, advising “passengers who can to postpone their trip and to contact their airline to find out the status of their flight.
The walkout will come a few days after the adoption, Wednesday evening, of a bill aimed at creating a “minimum adapted service” in this profession which is particularly prone to strikes. Between 2004 and 2016, French air traffic controllers accumulated 254 days of strike, according to a senatorial report published in June 2018. Enough to raise our country to the rank of inveterate European champion of strikes in the sector, far ahead of the Greek runner-up and its 46 strike days over the same period.
Unlike what is current today, the bill adopted by Parliament requires controllers to declare themselves to be on strike individually when a union submits notice. In the absence of exact information on the extent of participation in the movement, the DGAC almost systematically resorts to the minimum service to which it is required by law. To ensure the 50% of traffic planned as part of this minimum service, the DGAC finds itself forced to cancel flights as a preventive measure, without knowing exactly the extent of the social movement. As she is doing again – and undoubtedly for the last time – during the strike next Monday.
The government supported the bill from centrist senator Vincent Capo-Canellas, adopted on Wednesday. The Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, welcomed a “protective and balanced” text which will put an end to “an asymmetrical system” causing a “disorganization of the public service”. The senator, for his part, welcomes the fact that “air traffic will be proportionate to the number of strikers, which guarantees social dialogue based on the mobilization or not of employees”. He further believes that this is not a “restriction on the right to strike”, as the striking unions suggest. Vincent Capo-Canellas also cites as proof the unambiguous support of the main air traffic controllers' union, the SNCTA (National Union of Air Traffic Controllers).
The serial walkouts of the customary union centers (Force Ouvrière, CGT, SUD) during the pension reform had aroused the ire of airlines and their passengers. The president and CEO of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, who does not speak his tongue in his pocket, saw these recurring disruptions as an obstacle to “freedom of travel”. An analysis shared by more than 1.8 million Internet users who signed an online petition intended for the European Commission to fight against the French air traffic control system. Ryanair's rant is symptomatic of the fed up of an entire sector with this “greviculture” within French air traffic control which undermines the economy of the sky.