Talks this week to resolve the long-running dispute between air traffic controllers and employer Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd (HIAL) have led to a breakthrough, it was announced today (Tuesday November 19th).

ATC union Prospect is to put a revised offer to their membership and is likely to recommend that members accept the offer. A further meeting scheduled this week will finalise the detail, according to an announcement by HIAL.

The steps towards agreement mean that the work-to-rule which is currently in effect will be lifted from 5pm today (Tuesday) and will not be implemented whilst the offer is under consideration. HIAL says that the company welcomes that outcome.

Prospect has not yet advised of the closing date of the ballot, but HIAL plan to provide a further update when the ballot results are known.

Stornoway airport has been among those affected by the work-to-rule, which can mean delays to departures while air traffic controllers take prescribed breaks.

There were also whole days of closure at the airport due to strike action during spring and summer this year.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has welcomed news that HIAL and Prospect Union have made progress in their talks.  Mrs Grant Said: “After months of stalemate, I am pleased that HIAL appears to have made a more substantive offer to Air Traffic controllers.

“This has been a long time coming, and while the offer obviously still has to be considered and voted on by the Union membership, it is promising that Prospect are recommending it be accepted. This is hopefully an indication that the Scottish Government have finally accepted that the quality of their workers, who have chosen to live and work in some of the Highlands and Islands most rural areas, is deserving of recognition.  Today they argued that the staff of the Scottish National Investment Bank should not be bound by public pay.”

Mrs Grant also welcomed the news that the work to rule conditions which Air Traffic Controllers have been working within will be lifted during the consideration period.

She said: “The ATC staff are an integral part of our community and always go above and beyond to ensure they serve our communities. I know that they have not relished the work to rule conditions, but have seen it as necessary. The fact that they can now step out from this yoke and go back to doing what they do best in time for Christmas is as much a relief for them as it is for those who will be travelling on flights.”

But Mrs Grant stressed that this was only one fight facing the Air Traffic Controllers, and that retention of rural ATC was still to be resolved. “The potential loss of local Air Traffic Control is still looming and should be of deep concern to the Scottish Government which claims it wants to strengthen rural areas and yet continues to centralise services away from local communities."