Socialist Worker

Privatised skies behind disaster

Issue No. 1808

A CHAOTIC privatised air traffic control system caused last week's tragic midair collision in southern Germany, not pilot error. Swiss authorities attempted to blame the pilot of the Russian plane which crashed into a cargo plane, killing 71 people-52 of them children. Air traffic control in Switzerland was privatised this year and handed to the Skyguide company.

The only other country in Europe to privatise air traffic control is Britain. Investigators have uncovered appalling safety breaches by Skyguide leading to the crash:

Just one air traffic controller was left to monitor five planes on two radar screens.

The control's collision warning equipment was switched off.

The controller had to use a faulty backup phone line because the main network was undergoing maintenance.

German air traffic controllers could not get through on the phone when they spotted the planes on a collision course minutes before the crash. That meant the lone Swiss controller had only 44 seconds to warn the planes.

Skyguide effectively admitted guilt at the weekend when it cut by a fifth the amount of traffic it is prepared to handle in Swiss airspace. The admission comes too late for the victims and their relatives.


Workers speak out on safety

NEAR-MISSES in Europe's skies have risen from about 200 a year a decade ago to over 300 a year now. There is a shortage of over 1,600 air traffic controllers in Europe. A tenth of the vacancies are in Germany, with a similar number in Britain.

One air traffic control worker in Britain told Socialist Worker, 'Managers were floating the idea until recently of going down to one air traffic controller rather than two in less busy periods. Privatisation is already meaning cuts. A fifth of admin workers will have lost their jobs come September. They are trying to get rid of air traffic control support staff. Management has borrowed £700 million from the banks to introduce new technology. They have guaranteed the banks that the wage bill will be cut, even before they know whether the new technology will work. It introduces a huge risk.'

NATS, the private company owned by the airlines which runs Britain's air traffic control, also plans to cut engineering jobs. 'They want to change the systems so they will need fewer engineers,' says an air traffic control worker. 'It all adds up to more pressure.'


Suspension at PFI hospitals

NEW LABOUR gave the go-ahead for 13 new Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospitals last week. Health minister John Hutton announced the £2.4 billion PFI privatisation schemes despite union opposition. 'The government is lining the pockets of big business,' said Karen Jennings of the Unison union.


STOP PRESS: Bosses at the country's biggest NHS PFI project launched a major assault on its workers' union on Monday. Management suspended Phil Billows, Unison branch secretary at the Bart's and Royal London hospitals. The union has been at the centre of opposing the massive PFI project planned at the hospitals. Unison nationally must throw its full weight behind the fight to defend Phil.
Phone or fax messages of support on 020 7601 8125.


Striking back at the great pensions robbery

HUNDREDS OF workers are set to strike against the threat to their pensions next Wednesday, 17 July. The Caparo gas tubes company, run by New Labour peer Lord Paul, is replacing the workers' final salary pension scheme with a system based on stockmarket performance.

Workers in the ISTC union at the company's Scunthorpe and Tredegar plants have started an overtime ban and voted for a series of one-day strikes. Companies like British Airways, Safeway and Marks & Spencer have already closed final salary schemes to new workers, and many more companies are preparing such attacks.


'Specialist' use of union funds

SIR KEN Jackson, general secretary of the Amicus union, is to spend £250,000 of the union's money backing 'specialist' schools. Jackson is putting money into ten schools for engineering which could also be sponsored by companies such as BAe Systems and Rolls-Royce.

New Labour's specialist schools are selective, and a step towards privatisation.


Beeb to sub profits

GOVERNMENT ministers are forcing the BBC to hand £75 million to private companies to keep them in business. The BBC plans to provide educational materials free over the internet.

Private educational publishers admitted they could not compete with the high quality material produced by the BBC, a public corporation. They complained to minister for e-commerce and competitiveness, Stephen Timms (a former education minister).

The BBC will now have to buy half the £150 million resources it will provide from the private companies.


Blairs' school scandal

'EDUCATION, education, education-provided you can afford it.' That should be New Labour's slogan following news that Tony Blair is spending £100 a week on private tutors for his children.

He is buying help from one of Britain's most exclusive private schools. The lessons cost more than an unemployed single parent with a 17 year old child gets to live on for a week. Blair's sons are already educated at selective, opted-out London Oratory School.


Report exposes rail lies

THE ONLY sabotage connected with the Potters Bar rail crash was the attempt by some papers to sabotage the truth. A detailed Health and Safety Executive report published last week found a catalogue of faults on points around Potters Bar station.

Points failure caused the fatal crash three months ago. The report found no evidence of sabotage or vandalism-which papers such as the Observer suggested were to blame. Instead it uncovered 40 loose nuts out of 300 on points around Potters Bar. That rubbishes the claim of Stephen Byers, transport secretary at the time of the crash, that it was a 'one off'.

Jarvis, the company responsible for maintaining the Potters Bar line, is still trying to shift the blame onto mystery vandals. Within days of the report Jarvis handed huge bonuses and salary increases to its directors.

Jarvis's chief operating officer, Kevin Hyde, got a £100,000 bonus, increasing his pay by 71 percent to £352,000. 'This is blood money,' one Jarvis maintenance worker told Socialist Worker.


Back a woman's right to choose

GOVERNMENT PLANS to introduce an abortion pill making it easier for women to have terminations have provoked fury from papers like the Daily Mail. Family planning centres will be able to offer two separate doses of drugs which trigger a miscarriage. It is safer, much less traumatic, and done in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

The Daily Mail has attacked these proposals. Yet the Mail ran a poll at the height of one of its previous attacks on abortion rights in 1996 which found 81 percent of people supported a woman's right to choose.


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Article information

News
Sat 13 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1808
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