Review of ILO Conclusions

Review of ILO Conclusions

32ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Christchurch, NZ, 19-23 April 1993

WP No. 117

Review of ILO Conclusions



At the Bournemouth Conference in 1992 it was decided that SC4 and SC7 should review the conclusions reached by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Meeting of Experts in Air Traffic Control. This joint paper reviews those conclusions.

There are 52 conclusions covering ten topics and an invitation to action by the Governing Body of the ILO.

In order to follow the IFATCA paragraph numbering convention, after the paragraph number is a number in brackets, this is the number of the conclusion as it appears on the ILO document. The actual conclusion appears in bold printing (italics in original paper), conclusions requiring review or action are underlined.

Comments are defined thus:

  • “Incorporated in IFATCA policy” means that IFATCA or ILO policy is same as conclusion. Where policy goes further than the conclusion it is quoted in full.
  • “A valid and lasting statement” means that the statement stands on its own merits and does not require any further action.
  • “IFATCA has no policy on this matter” is self-explanatory.


Industrial Relations

(1) The Governments of all ILO member states should be urged to ratify and apply the Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No.87), the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No.98) and the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention, 1978 No.151), as their provisions embody principles which should be recognised as applicable to ATCOs.

COMMENT: Collective bargaining Convention 154 of 1981 should also be recognised as applicable to Air Traffic Controllers.

(2) In particular, ATCOs should have the right to establish and join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation. These organisations should have the right to draw up their own constitutions and rules, elect their representatives in full freedom, organise their own administration and activities and formulate their programmes without interference from public authorities. These organisations should not be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority and should have the right to establish and join federations and confederations. Any such organisation, federation or confederation should have the right to affiliate with international organisations.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy. The phrase “without previous authorisation” appears vague and likely to evoke legal consequences.

(3) ATCOs should enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment. In particular the employment of ATCOs should not be made subject to the condition that they shall not join or that they shall relinquish membership of an ATCO trade union or other representative organisation, and they should be protected against acts calculated to cause their dismissal or otherwise prejudice them by reason of membership of such an organisation or because of participation in the normal activities of such an organisation.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(4) Organisations should enjoy complete independence from employers and/or public authorities, and adequate protection against any interference by an employer and/or public authority in their establishment, functioning or administration.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(5) ATCOs should participate, through their trade unions and/or other such representative organisations, in the determination of their conditions of employment and service. Furthermore, ATCOs should be consulted in the conception, planning and implementation of technical provisions concerning ATC systems, for example, through the establishment of joint committees of ATCO organisations and ATC authorities. The extent of this participation and consultation should be determined by national law and practice but in all cases they should take place in the early stages of the decision making process where feasible.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(6) Procedures appropriate to national conditions should be established to encourage and promote voluntary negotiation designed to resolve issues related to terms and conditions of employment.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy however Collective Bargaining Convention 154 of 1981 should also be recognised as being applicable to Air Traffic Controllers.

(7) Industrial disputes in ATC are due to a variety of causes. In particular there appears to be a correlation between their occurrence and inadequate professional recognition, quality of ATC equipment, a lack of capacity of ATC systems to cope with peak demand of air traffic as well as concern with wages and working conditions. This correlation appears to be more evident in situations where adequate dispute settlement machinery does not exist.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

(8) The settlement of disputes should be sought as may be appropriate to national conditions, through negotiation between the parties or through independent and impartial machinery, such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration, established in such a manner as to ensure the confidence of the parties involved. Where ATCOs are employed by the government, their civil servant status should not preclude them from having access to the following procedures: in particular, the settlement of disputes arising in connection with the determination of terms and conditions of employment should be sought through negotiation between the parties, or through independent and impartial machinery, such as mediation, conciliation and voluntary arbitration, with a view to making it unnecessary for the organisations representing ATCOs to have recourse to industrial action.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy however Labour Relations Convention 151 of 1981 in conjunction with the Promotion of Collective Bargaining Convention 154 of 1981 should well be exhausted before organisations representing ATCOs have recourse to industrial action. Note that IFATCA policy says “consultation” not “conciliation”.

(9)The principles relevant to trade union activities which are embodied in the Workers’ Representatives Convention, 1971 (No. 135) and the Paid Educational Leave Convention, 1974 (No. 140) should be recognised as applicable to ATCOs.

COMMENT: Added to these should be:

(1) Collective Bargaining Convention 154 of 1981;

(2) Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention 156 of 1981;

(3) Termination of Employment Convention 158 of 1982;

(4) Employment Promotion and Protection Against Unemployment Convention 168 of 1988;

(5) Night Work Convention 171 of 1990.

Social and Labour Aspects of the ATC System

(10) The technical aspects of any ATC system have a definite impact on the social and labour problems of ATCOs, and in most cases it is difficult to consider the two groups of issues separately.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

(11) In all countries research should be carried out with a view to defining the capacity of the ATC system and the ATCO’s workload. Such research should take account of the differences among ATC regions, units and even sectors.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(12) Although the findings of such national research cannot be directly applied in other countries, an exchange of information would be beneficial to States having similar ATC conditions and systems. The ILO, in collaboration with other international organisations concerned, should collect and disseminate such findings and information.

COMMENT: Research was done in four countries and returned to the ILO, however SC4 do not consider that to satisfy the requirements of the conclusion.

(13) The ILO should call the attention of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to the need for establishing international minimum standards concerning the design and maintenance of ATC premises and ground equipment, the type of such equipment and the requirements of the working environment in order to maximise safety. The ILO, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations concerned, should participate in the establishment of these standards. This suggestion does not in any way preclude states from establishing national standards which meet their requirements. ATCOs, through their organisations, should participate in the elaboration of such standards.

COMMENT: To the best of IFATCA knowledge this has never been done.

(14) ATCOs should be provided with ATC equipment commensurate with the operational requirements so as to promote an optimum level of safety. ATCOs, through their trade unions and/or other such representative organisations, should also be consulted in the early stages on the design of new ATC premises and the type of new ATC equipment.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(15) In areas where civil air traffic, in the normal course of events, predominates, or where civil airspace is clearly defined, a civilian ATC system is preferable to a military one for the controlling of air traffic. Such a system should be a well-defined organisation responsible for managing the technical, social and labour aspects of ATC. The ICAO policy is that one controller should be responsible for any given area of airspace at any given time.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(16) In order to guarantee air safety, recourse should not be had to replacement ATC staff who do not have the required national or international qualifications.

COMMENT: IFATCA policy states at Para. 1.3.:

” IFATCA strongly condemns the action of governments in resorting to the use of civil mobilisation or requisition measures for the purpose of preventing or ending national disputes.”

” Only negotiation or arbitration procedures shall be used to prevent or end disputes.”


(17) After considerable debate on different types of ATC administration, it is recognised that, regardless of the type of structure which exists, the system should in all cases ensure sound industrial relations and the proper functioning of ATC services.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

Hours of Work

(18) ATCOs are directly involved in the safety of civil aviation and have problems which are unique to their profession, and their concern with safety could broadly be compared with that of pilots.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

(19) Hours of work, length of shifts, duration of uninterrupted work at air traffic control positions and other parameters of work schedules have a direct impact on air safety. It is therefore necessary to establish guidelines for work schedules to reduce fatigue of air traffic controllers.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(20) Long working hours and inadequate rest periods for ATCOs are potential threats to the safety of aviation. However, it is very difficult to establish uniform standards for all countries, ATC systems, levels of traffic density and hours of the day. There are no internationally accepted medical criteria in relation to fatigue and working hours, but socio-domestic factors which are important must also be taken into account.

COMMENT: IFATCA Policy Manual Page Para. 3.1.3:

“An optimal roster should be promulgated, based on the maximum allowed number of working hours per week and per shift, a minimum number of break periods of an agreed minimum length, both during a shift and between shifts and on an optimal night/day switch number per week or per month as appropriate. This roster requires definition of personnel strength based on the number of sectors and traffic density. It must allow for attribution of a minimum number of days paid leave. It must be such that a minimum number of weekends per month and of public holidays per year can be taken as they occur and not later. Conditions for overtime and nightwork (e.g. rest facilities) must be defined and the regulations governing the various kinds of leave be clearly stated.”


(21) Maximum working hours per day, per week and per month with minimum rest periods should be laid down for ATCOs by the governments of all States in consultation with the trade unions and other representative organisations concerned. These should preferably be enforceable by law. For the reasons indicated in the preceding paragraphs, the maximum hours of attendance at the place of work per week by ATCOs should normally be less than the generally accepted number of hours of attendance per week completed by other workers in civil aviation in the State concerned.

COMMENT: See paragraph 2.3.6.

(22) Shift lengths which embrace periods of high activity should not normally exceed 8 hours and in other cases should not exceed 10/12 hours.

COMMENT: See paragraph 2.3.6.

(23) Timetables should be devised in consultation with staff organisations in such a manner that sufficient time is allowed to relieve fatigue, and should allow for short rest periods. The prevalent practice in some countries appears to provide controllers with 30 minute breaks after two hours’ duty. Agreement should be reached between ATCO trade unions and/or other such representative organisations and local managements as to which positions the entitlement and frequency of rest periods should apply.

COMMENT: IFATCA Policy Manual Page 4131 Para.3.2.1.-3.2.7. states:

“3.2.1. The average time on duty per week should not exceed 32 hours.

3.2.2. Each shift should not exceed 7 hours 30 minutes.

3.2.3. The maximum continuous effective working time for a controller should be 2 hours and this should be reduced for a radar controller.

3.2.4. By night the total effective working time should not exceed 5 hours.

3.2.5. After a period of 2 hours on duty (less for a radar controller) a 30 minutes break at least, away from the working environment, should be given to controllers.

3.2.6. Air traffic controllers working with visual terminals and radar operators should take a break every 90 minutes.

3.2.7. The minimum time off between two periods of duty should be not less than 12 hours.”


(24) Since overtime work is undesirable from the safety as well as from the social points of view, it should be avoided.

COMMENT: IFATCA has no policy on this subject.

(25) The ILO should as a matter of urgency undertake a thorough investigation into the impact of fatigue and the effect of stress on ATCOs in collaboration with other international organisations, such as WHO and ICAO, and should set minimum international standards on working hours and rest periods for ATCOs, as has been done for other categories of employees such as pilots.

COMMENT: Although they collect statistics the ILO have not actively undertaken the action suggested here.

(26) With regard to holidays and days off, the principle of extra leave for ATCOs in view of the particular demands of their profession, either above that of office workers in general or above that of shift workers in particular, has been established in some countries.

COMMENT: IFATCA Policy Manual Para. 3.3. states:

The annual leave for a controller should be not less than thirty working days (this is the equivalent of six weeks), excluding public holidays, of which three weeks must be consecutive.



(27) Because of the uniqueness of the air traffic control profession, it does not readily lend itself to comparisons with other professions. However, to ensure that the ATCO’s remuneration is commensurate with their responsibilities, it should be noted that one of the professions in which the responsibilities assumed closely resemble that of the ATCO is that of the professional pilot.

In fact, in at least one country, the controller’s remuneration has been compared and linked to that of airline captain. In many countries ATCOs are compared to other public servants for remuneration purposes due to their employment status which has led to considerable dissatisfaction among ATCOs. In all cases, the trade unions and/or the appropriate organisations concerned should be consulted on the proposed remunerations resulting from these comparisons.

COMMENT: IFATCA policy based on this conclusion should be reviewed. (note: Policy is reviewed in 1994 by WP 139)

(28) In the interest of air safety, when determining remuneration structure and levels, ATC authorities should take into consideration the impact of remuneration on staffing levels and turnover. The relevant principles which are embodied in the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) should be recognised as applicable to ATCOs.

COMMENT: Night Work Convention 171 of 1990 and recommendation 178 concerning night work should also be recognised.

Age of Retirement and Pensions


(29) The principle of an early age of retirement should be recognised for ATCOs in view of the peculiarity of this profession and in the interest of air safety. This early age of retirement should be determined by negotiations at the national level between the employer and ATCO trade unions and/or such other representative organisations.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(30) The requirement for retirement at an earlier age than that of other employees should enable ATCOs to receive pension benefits as if service had continued to normal retirement age, the method of assessment of such benefits to be the subject of negotiations between the employer and ATCO trade unions and/or other such representative organisations.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy Page 4151:

“5.1.1. In the view of the peculiarity and uniqueness of the profession of Air Traffic Control, and in the interest of air safety, air traffic controllers should be awarded retirement at an earlier age than that of other employees.

5.1.2. Such age of retirement should be determined by negotiations at the national level. However at the age of 50, a controller shall cease from active control.

5.1.3. Early retirement legislation must be accompanied by an adequate pension scheme which enables the controller to at least receive pension benefits as if service had continued to normal retirement age.

5.1.4. A controller in active control may retire after 20 years of service.”


Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare

(31) Close co-operation should be established between ATC authorities in all countries and ATCO trade unions and other representative organisations in improving all aspects of occupational safety, health and welfare.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

(32) Studies and research on all aspects of the occupational safety, health and welfare of ATCOs, including ergonomics and equipment design, should be carried out in all countries. ATCO trade unions and other representative organisations should be involved in these efforts from the start. These studies should be communicated to the ILO.

COMMENT: To be raised with the ILO by the Executive Board.

(33) With regard to safety, control towers and control rooms should be fitted with fire and emergency exits.

COMMENT: IFATCA has no policy on this subject.

(34) Studies carried out at the national level indicate that a stress problem exists in ATC. There is still scope for considerable research to identify the causes of stress and its impact on the ATCOs, measure its levels and work out measures for preventing, diagnosing and treating its manifestations as soon as possible.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(35) A system of initial and regular follow-up medical examinations specifically for ATCOs is essential in the interest of safety. Such a system should be geared to selection, and be capable of: detecting any medical deficiencies in ATCOs before or during their ab-initio training; providing for a thorough and regular monitoring of the ATCO’s health throughout his career; detecting any deterioration in his health as early as possible; and preventing such deterioration wherever possible. Such a system should include aptitude tests specifically developed for ATC requirements. The ATCO should be entitled to have his medical file forwarded to his own physician at the latter’s request. Statistics should be taken and evaluated by each national authority of the medical standards of the ATCO profession, and it would be desirable that these statistical results should be collated by the ILO in co-operation with the WHO and published annually.

COMMENT: Incorporated in ICAO Annex 1 and IFATCA policy.

(36) Adequate recreation, rest, welfare and sanitary facilities should be planned for and available at all ATC units. Rest rooms should be separate from the place of work and the recreation facilities.

COMMENT: IFATCA has no policy on this matter.

Legal Liabilities

(37) ATCOs are knowledgeable about the reliability and efficiency of the ATC systems, procedures and equipment that they operate and many improvements to the system originate in the lessons drawn from its failures. Therefore, in every country, it should be considered whether, in the interest of safety, a reporting system on incidents, observations and suggestions could be established, which does not penalise or sanction the ATCO, except in cases of dereliction of duty, disregard for the law and gross negligence, which would be made known by means other than the ATCO’s reports.

COMMENT: IFATCA Manual Paras. 2.2.1.- 2.2.3.:

2.2.1. Whereas IFATCA thinks a voluntary reporting system is essential, MA’s should promote the creation of Air Safety reporting Systems and Confidential Reporting Systems among their members.

2.2.2. IFATCA shall not encourage MA’s to join a Voluntary Incident Reporting System unless there is guaranteed immunity for the controller who is reporting.

2.2.3. Any voluntary incident reporting system shall be based on the following principles:

a) in accordance and in co-operation with pilots, air traffic controllers and ATC authorities;

b) the whole procedure shall be confidential, which shall be guaranteed by law;

c) guaranteed immunity for those involved; executed by an independent body.

(38) In every country, where ATCOs are involved in the investigation of incidents and accidents, they should be entitled to representation from their trade unions and/or other such representative organisations to the extent that is legally possible.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(39) In the light of recent court decisions in some countries and developments of case law, ATCOs in some countries may be held liable and found guilty either for strictly adhering to ATC rules and regulations or for departing from them in the interest of safety. They are therefore operating in a complex system with respect to their legal liability. Legislative action should be taken whenever necessary to harmonise air navigation and ATC regulations with developments in the law of the land on an ongoing basis.

COMMENT: IFATCA Manual Para. 1.6.:

IFATCA shall continue the efforts towards a suitable Convention limiting the Legal Liability of air traffic controllers.


(40) Since no legal system recognises the principle of vicarious criminal liability, and since under several legal systems the ATCO’s civil liability may be invoked separately and independently from the vicarious civil liability of his employer, the ATCO may be sued both on criminal and civil grounds independently from his employer. Governments in the legal systems concerned should pass legislation to abolish such independent civil liabilities of ATCOs and provide them with adequate legal protection and counsel in those areas where this does not exist at present.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(41) The ILO should call ICAO’s attention to the need to safeguard the ATCO’s legal interests when ICAO is considering an international Convention on the liability of air traffic control agencies, with a view to ensuring, in particular, that the ATCO will not be individually and independently sued for damages over and above the limits to be stipulated by that Convention.

COMMENT: ILO comments that the matter was brought to the attention of ICAO but they are not aware whether any action was taken.

(42) The ILO should collect and disseminate all relevant information on this subject, and undertake a study of the ATCO’s legal liabilities and legal position in different countries.

COMMENT: No action has been taken by the ILO.

Manpower and Career Planning

(43) Adequate manpower and career planning activities are vital to the efficiency and safety of air traffic control systems. These programmes should take into account all relevant factors such as seasonal fluctuations, air traffic forecasts in the short and medium term, the capacity of ATC systems, the ATCO’s workload and capacity to handle traffic, the number of control positions needed, the level of competence and qualifications of staff and staffing formulas. A closer cooperation between airlines and air traffic control services is desirable in this respect, in order to overcome some of the inherent instability and fluctuations of these factors.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

(44) The staffing formulas should take into account all the relevant factors such as operating hours of the different working positions; number and length of shift; hours of work; holidays, annual leave, time off, maternity leave, trade union activity leave and other days off; number of days lost on sick leave; time needed for holding positions other than actual control; time needed for specialised and refresher training courses; ATCO attrition through retirements, medical incapacity and resignations. Although these factors can be forecast with relatively greater accuracy than the ones outlined in the preceding paragraph, their values may change, sometimes abruptly, when new conditions of work are negotiated.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

Training and Retraining

(45) In the interest of safety, the existing international guidelines for the training of ATCOs should be revised and the ILO should bring this to ICAO’s attention.

COMMENT: To be raised with the ILO by the Executive Board.

(46) With regard to recruitment, ATCO candidates with no previous aviation experience should be normally recruited between 17 and 25 years of age and their general education should be relevant to civil aviation, and at university entrance level. The basic training programme should provide for three phases before licensing: classroom instruction; exercises with simulators on ATC procedures; and practical experience. Training to private pilot licence standard could be considered where it would usefully contribute to the training process.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(47) In order to sustain the required high degree of aviation safety and the high ATC standards and also to keep the ATCO abreast with aviation progress, it is considered essential that ATCOs receive regular refresher courses and benefit from regular familiarisation flights. The frequency of such courses and flights may be agreed upon by the ATCO trade unions and/or other such representative organisations and the respective aviation authorities. In the interest of safety, a system of regular proficiency checking should be established for the ATCOs.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(48) Post-licensing training should provide for retraining courses prior to the introduction of new ATC equipment and procedures. Simulators could be suitable tools for on-the-job training, despite the complex problems their introduction would imply.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

(49) Both classroom and on-the-job instructors should be carefully selected and given adequate pedagogical training prior to their work. Classroom instructors should generally be selected from among ATCOs engaged in actual ATC work and be provided with opportunities to keep their knowledge up to date. A specific instructor rating, or qualification level, should be established as a distinct category of ATCO to facilitate the ensuring of proper selection of high quality instructors.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy.

Employment Security

(50) Throughout his career the ATCO is exposed to the concrete and constant risk of losing his licence on grounds of medical or technical incapacity, thereby ceasing to be able to exercise his profession and thus losing his livelihood. Since the number of suitable and meaningful posts for re-employing the ATCO within the civil service is rather limited in view of his specialised background, training and experience, employer-sponsored loss of licence insurance schemes and employer-sponsored second career programmes should be encouraged for ATCOs in all countries, more particularly where ATC is run by a private company and where re-employment possibilities are thus even more difficult to obtain. If the ATCO is to be re-employed after he has lost his licence, he should be given thorough retraining for his new post.

COMMENT: Incorporated in IFATCA policy, however the Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Convention 168 of 1988 should be instituted in all countries.

(51) Since ATCOs attain a high level of professional specialisation and remuneration at a relatively young age, the impact on their incomes of loss of licence is much more significant than for other groups of workers. Consequently, the retraining requirements are greater and the difficulties more severe when ATCOs are reassigned to other positions to learn new responsibilities.

COMMENT: A valid and lasting statement.

Closing Invitation

(52)The Governing Body of the International Labour Office is invited to consider placing on the agenda of an early session of the International Labour Conference the question of conditions of employment and service of air traffic controllers with a view to the adoption of an appropriate international instrument.

COMMENT: To IFATCA knowledge this has never been done.


The ILO conclusions would be more powerful and possibly binding on States who are signatories to the ILO Convention if the final recommended action Number 52 had been taken. IFATCA should endeavour to have this matter taken up by the ILO.

SC4 believes there are 12 conclusions that require further attention:

  • Conclusions 12, 13, 25, 32, 41, 42 and 45 require action by the ILO.
  • SC4 will initiate a policy proposal on conclusions 16 and 27.
  • SC4 requests guidance from Conference whether policy proposals are required regarding conclusions 24, 33, and 36.


The Executive Board should continue to liaise with the ILO regarding conclusions numbered 12,13,25,32,41,42 and 45 of the ILO Meeting of Aviation Experts in Air Traffic Control.

This working paper be accepted as Guidance Material.

Last Update: September 20, 2020  

December 23, 2019   305   Jean-Francois Lepage    1993    

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