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Irish Aviation Authority accuses air traffic controllers of 'an act of sabotage'

Senior managers claimed that air controllers were seeking to undermine the international reputation of the IAA.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

SENIOR MANAGEMENT IN the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) have accused air traffic controllers of seeking to undermine and “sabotage” the company. 

In an unprecedented move, the IAA has issued a stinging attack on members of its own workforce in an internal memo.

In September The Journal revealed that a group of around 120 air traffic control officers (ATCOs) had written directly to Government to raise concerns of disruption and safety in Irish airspace.  

In a letter sent to members of the Oireachtas, the ATCOs made a number of claims, which were sent in emails and not communicated via a trade union, including allegations around the safety of the air traffic control system in Irish airspace. They allege the problems have been caused by rostering issues and understaffing. 

In a subsequent statement the IAA refuted the allegations and appealed to the workforce to engage with the industrial relations mechanisms available.  

The dispute has now escalated with sources claiming that ATCOs are “frightened and scared” that they will face internal discipline proceedings for raising their issues.   

The letter from the IAA, issued to staff on Monday and seen by The Journal, said that some of the workforce were seeking to destroy the reputation of the Irish Aviation Authority by going public with their internal work issues. 

The letter said that the efforts to raise awareness of their plight was an “act of sabotage”.

The letter from management states: “Over recent weeks a small number of colleagues have have sought to publicly damage the IAA. 

“Meanwhile, the vast majority of IAA staff do not wish to be associated with this and are focused on building the company back up after the devastation of Covid-19.”

The management letter also dismisses suggestions that safety is a problem in the IAA.

“Regrettably, some colleagues have sought to undermine our reputation for safety and to call into question the integrity and professionalism of IAA management and staff.

“You will be familiar with the recent leaks to politicians and media of matters related to unofficial industrial action led by the ATC branch representatives. 

“It is clear this unofficial action is not supported by the Fórsa union. As previously advised by the Director HR, these leaks will be fully investigated,” the letter added. 

The management correspondence strongly criticised the letter sent to Oireachtas members by disillusioned ATCOs.

“An email recently circulated to the Minister for Transport and members of the Oireachtas Transport Committee makes false, misleading and damaging allegations on the safety culture, professionalism and integrity of all of us in the IAA.

“It is an act of sabotage. It sets out to destroy the reputation we have striven so hard to achieve and maintain,” the management letter states. 

Sources have said that some of the air traffic control officers are concerned by the content of the correspondence from management. 

“This letter has really shocked people and particularly the way it has been said that they are now investigating this,” one source said. 

“The letter that was sent out, by well in excess of 100 ATCOs, was sent because they have come to the end of their tether with the way they are being treated. 

“The workers aren’t trying to sabotage anything – it was written because of the concerns and pressure they are under,” the source said. 

Sources have said the letter attacks “a small number of colleagues” who have “sought to damage the IAA”. 

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“It basically said that anyone that speaks up is damaging the reputation and business of the company at the time of the break up of the organisation,” they told The Journal. 

“They [the IAA] are adamant that they want us to stay inside the company’s internal industrial relations mechanisms – but that’s the problem, they don’t work because the company doesn’t want to engage. 

“Some TDs have sent replies and it was raised in the Dáil but yet there’s nothing there from Government or, for that matter, the company – they are just rushing changes through.

“The fact that the Department of Transport never replied [to the letter sent by the ATCOs] says it all really. We have no-one to turn to – clearly there was no choice but to raise the concerns with the media because the Government and the company aren’t listening,” the source added.

The IAA is responsible for the management of Irish-controlled airspace, the safety regulation of Irish civil aviation and the oversight of civil aviation security in Ireland.

Under a Government directive, the regulatory function must be separated from the business side, which provides commercial air navigation services. That separation process is currently ongoing.  

In September, in response to The Journal‘s investigation of the industrial relations problems, Fórsa and the IAA called for workers to engage with internal industrial relations mechanisms.

In response to a query, the IAA said: “Communication with staff is an internal matter and confidential. We do not discuss such communications in public”.

Fórsa and the Department of Transport have been asked for a statement. 

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