Government to restrict flights at Poland’s busiest airport amid dispute with controllers

From the start of May, flights at Poland’s busiest airport, Warsaw Chopin, will only take place between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and will be severely restricted in number, with priority given to 32 destinations.

The new measures were introduced by the government in a regulation published late on Monday as the result of a conflict over pay and conditions with air traffic controllers, many of whom are threatening to leave their jobs at the end of April if their demands are not met.

Among the connections to be given priority are three London airports (Heathrow, Luton and Stansted), as well as Frankfurt, New York, Chicago, Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Rome and Amsterdam. The only Polish airport on the list is Szczecin-Goleniów airport in northwest Poland.

On Monday evening, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that “contingency plans” were in place should an agreement not be reached with unions. Further talks between the two sides are taking place today.

The conflict began at the end of last year, when new bylaws regarding terms and conditions of employment and wages were introduced, despite some employees not having accepted them.

The government says the decision was necessary due to lower passenger numbers during the pandemic. It has also noted that air traffic controllers are very well paid, with Morawiecki saying on Tuesday that their average monthly wage in Warsaw is 45,000 zloty (compared to a national average wage of around 6,600 zloty).

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Changes proposed by the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA), the state agency dealing with air traffic management, would bring that salary down to around 30,000-33,000 zloty, reported Money.pl earlier this month.

The Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers (ZZKRL), however, says that the issue is not just about pay, but also safety and work culture. It has issued a list of seven demands.

Among them are the removal of new rules that allow a single person to cover a shift alone, compliance with the labour law regarding working time, and the introduction of transparent remuneration policies.

Controllers say the new regulations decrease the level of air traffic safety and also increase controllers’ stress levels, which can contribute to mistakes at work.

“The conflict is by no means predicated on the issue of ‘buying us’ and financials alone,” says the union. “The key is to rebuild an institution with a high safety culture for both those who work in it and those for whom the institution works. We are talking about the lives of hundreds of thousands of passengers a day.”

According to the Polish Press Agency (PAP), the infrastructure ministry has prepared a draft of regulations that would allow the employment of foreign controllers in Poland.

Such measures, however, would be unlikely to be in place by 1 May – a period that is particularly busy for Polish airports as many Poles travel for the long holiday weekend as both 1 May and 3 May are national holidays.

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