What does work to rule mean for air-traffic control?

  • 2 Replies

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Offline thedoc

  • Forum Admin
  • Administrator
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • 513
    • View Profile
Dieter Fischer  asked the Naked Scientists:
One question has bugged me for a quite some time. There may not even be a scientific answer, just like Hawkeye may not be the answer to faultless refereeing in football.
When air traffic controllers want to put pressure onto their employers for more money, they start a 'work-to-rule-campaign'. This often causes long delays at airports and grabs the attention of the public.
My logical brain asks: Since there is no delays at our airport at the present, air traffic controllers are not working to rule. So what rule can and must they break to have air traffic run smoothly?

A supplementaryquestion is, logic again: Why have rules, which must be broken for smooth operation?
Kind regards from Adelaide, Australia
Dieter Fischer

PS My question was birthed after extreme frustration with our government, which firstly made all driving instructors act as examiners (to test their own students - no second opinion) and then said that we must apply the same rules to a 71 year-old learner driver as we do to a 17 year old. It was an impossible task! I broke the rules many times (and crashed anyway!)

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 01/08/2013 15:30:01 by _system »


Offline evan_au

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • 4315
    • View Profile
Re: What does work to rule mean for air-traffic control?
« Reply #1 on: 02/08/2013 12:14:01 »
Rules and laws can be applied sensibly, or they can be applied capriciously and maliciously. As Charles Dickens suggested, sometimes the law is an ass.

For a life-critical occupation like an air-traffic controller, pilot, doctor (or truck driver), it makes sense to have rules like "After working a 12 hour shift, you must have a break of at least 10 hours before being rostered on again." But I think most of our hospitals would collapse if this rule were applied rigorously, so a bit of cooperation and flexibility is necessary to cover for illness, emergencies, etc.

In most western countries, choosing to work a shift of over 8 hours is "voluntary" (at least in theory), which can be rewarded by extra pay, or taking time off at another time (again in theory). So if a particular day is your mother's birthday, you may negotiate to work only 8 hours that day, and someone else will take the overtime shift for you. However, if all people in a particular workplace simultaneously declare that they will only work 8 hours per day for the next month, that will leave the workplace with severely reduced capacity. Provided the union/workplace discusses such actions well in advance and talk through the implications, it can draw attention to legitimate workplace grievances without affecting public safety or the economic wellbeing of third parties. It may even improve public safety (I think of the mind-numbing hours worked by young doctors to sustain our pubic hospitals).

There was a time in Australia when every Christmas you could predict a postal strike, a beer strike and a petrol strike. There was also a building union that would frequently call a union meeting in the middle of pouring a concrete slab on a skyscraper, meaning the whole floor had to be broken up with jackhammers and poured again a few days later.... (with the threat of another unannounced union meeting on that day too).


Offline Lmnre

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • 178
    • View Profile
Re: What does work to rule mean for air-traffic control?
« Reply #2 on: 02/08/2013 15:32:45 »
ATCs are unionized, so they have contracts with their employers. More money may not always be the objective of work-to-rule campaigns.

If you think of ATCs as high-tech traffic police, they provide a service to the public, so they feel an obligation to ensure the public receives sufficient coverage. Air travel is also a monopoly in that there are no other realistic alternatives that the public can seek. Traveling by car, rail or ship takes much longer, and most people have become accustomed to the convenience of flying.

But air traffic control is a hectic job, so time off for ATCs is considered precious, and the extra money for working voluntary overtime (even though paid at a higher pay rate) may not be worth the bother. So these campaigns might be to coerce their employers to hire more ATCs, instead of asking the current ATCs to do their employers a favor in working overtime.