Every now and then in Spain we have to suffer threats from this or that small group of workers from different sectors of paralyzing the country (or a given city). Transporters, workers in Metro de Madrid, the Madrid subway cleaners, pilots and air traffic controllers are examples of such elements. These small groups manage to impose their claims (rarely fair, and often capricious) thanks to: (a) the monopoly of the company employing them, and the resulting lack of competition, and (b) collective agreements.
These days of summer of 2010 air traffic controllers are once again pressing for new benefits (as they did also in 2009). In view of the situation of last year (2009), and in the face of what is already happening in 2010, José Blanco, the Minister of Development(Ministry in charge of air traffic control in Spain), has taken an excellent (and long over due) step: to liberalize the provision of air navigation services. It’s the best thing we can do to rid society (individuals, workers and businesses) of blackmailing maneuvers from worker unions.
In Spain there is only one airport operator, AENA, which is a state enterprise. It is a monopoly. If the company fails to provide service (by decision of its workers, as is the case of air traffic controllers), no other service provider of air navigation, leading easily to a halt of air traffic. It’s about time someone dismantled AENA’s monopolistic cartel.
With this new measure from the Ministry of Development (hopefully it will actually go into force), it will grant licenses to operate control towers to various aviation companies. Competition will be introduced in the service. Air traffic controllers will not belong all to a single company. Each one will have to negotiate their working conditions (salary included) with a given company, which in turn competes for the air navigation service.
Two problems remain to be solved: The point (b) set out above: The existence of collective agreements that can sill be used as a grouping mechanism that grants power to the controllers, even if working in different companies.
The second problem (point “c” in this list of problems) is derived from the air navigation service nature: Traffic is controlled service by a single control area or zone, within which there is no competition between service providers. It is a problem common to almost any type of infrastructure: data networks, roads, seaports, and airports: It is not easy (and perhaps not even possible) to have multiple service providers in the same place, for infrastructure users to choose different providers at any time. This problem of “local monopolies” is inherent to infrastructures, and it makes them very vulnerable to strikes and similar blackmail.
However, these “local monopolies” would not achieve the suspension of air navigation services in the whole of Spain: Some geographical areas may suffer a strike, but not others (which may be operated by different aviation companies).
It is necessary that the State eliminates collective agreements (this is a matter for another article), but the first step, the liberalization of service provision air navigation, seems to be under way. Congratulations to the Minister of Development, José Blanco, for this measure.