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Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 18:41 GMT
Air traffic controllers threaten strike
Gatwick Airport
The proposed partial sell-off of Nats is controversial
Union delegates have voted to ballot air traffic controllers for industrial action if the government's part-privatisation plans go ahead.

Delegates of the controllers' union, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, voted at their two-day annual conference on Saturday in Manchester.

Negotiations will take place but it will be backed up by industrial action if necessary

Ian Findlay
If the union eventually opts for strike action, air travel would suffer major disruption, especially during the busy Easter period.

The government is pressing ahead with its plans for the part-privatisation which would see it surrender majority control of the National Air Traffic Services (Nats).

Compromise safety

The plan has been bitterly opposed by air traffic controllers who fear it could compromise safety.

The government says part-privatisation is necessary to provide the investment needed to upgrade the present system and prepare for the expected future growth in traffic.

"Negotiations will take place but it will be backed up by industrial action if necessary," IPMS national officer Ian Findlay told Sky News.

"It is in the public interest. We will take industrial action only as a last resort."

"We have given the government a not-for-profit alternative but they haven't taken that opportunity up."

Offer rejected

Air traffic controllers voted last month to reject an 8,000 offer in lieu of 10 days less holidays in order to train on a new 623m control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire.

Jumbo landing
More planes than ever are using the UK's airports

Controllers are also angry at the introduction of performance-related pay for operational staff.

The government has had three bidders for the 46% stake in Nats which could be worth as much as 900m.

The air traffic controllers will have a 5% stake while the government will retain a 49% stake.

The three consortia are the Airline Group, a group of eight UK airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Nimus, backed by Serco, the UK facilities management group, and the Lockheed Martin backed Novares group.

Transport minister Lord MacDonald will bring a report back to the House of Commons at the end of the month which will make recommendations on which bidder is successful.

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See also:

01 May 00 | UK Politics
Prescott bid to avert air traffic revolt
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