Flying to or from Moscow soon? Well perhaps you won't be. Potentially serious storm clouds are gathering over Moscow's airports, and it's not because of the weather. Workers from air traffic controllers to baggage handlers, around 2800 in all, say they haven't been paid and may go on strike. That would affect safety, plane maintenance, cleaning and more.
Flight dispatchers say they are considering action even though they're banned from it under their labour code. Instead of actually striking they may expose the extra work they've been given (also they say a break of the code by their employer) by sticking strictly to the letter of their agreement which says that any one controller can only handle six aircraft at once. That, say dispatchers, would mean around forty percent of flights go unattended to. Their labour code even allows controllers to sit at work and do nothing until they are paid.
The sum? 173 million roubles, or over five million dollars in wages owed them by their employer, the State ATM Corporation (ironic though the name is) which runs air traffic control across Russia. The dispute has been going on since 2011. Every six months, say staff, they are supposed to have their pay adjusted in accordance with a profit growth ratio. Even though a Moscow court found in favour of the employees on May 24th this year their demands have still not been met.
The president of the federal Russian air traffic controllers labour union, Sergey Kovalev, says that air traffic controllers and others will not actually strike, merely follow a strict 'no extra work' ethos. As he says, controllers who should only be handling six planes at a time are now routinely given fifteen to seventeen to manage at once.
The state ATM corporation is refusing to comment, though they previously claimed the agreement referred to by workers is invalid, superseded by another. Whether a mark of the seriousness of this labour standoff, or an attempt a scaremongering, the country's Federal Air Transport Agency is also supporting the state ATM corporation. It says giving in to the workers' demands could lead to similar ones by regional airport staff across Russia and force up air fares.