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Editorial: Air Traffic Controllers Overreach

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Editorial: Air Traffic Controllers Overreach

Unread post by bimjim » Sat Feb 07, 2009

http://www.kaieteurnews.com/2009/02/06/ ... overreach/

Air Traffic Controllers Overreach
February 6, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Editorial

In a startling re-enactment of the air controllers strike in the USA during August 1981 (in which President Reagan changed the nature of labour relations for all times when he fired the striking air controllers) Minister of Public Works and Transport, Robeson Benn sent out letters of termination to striking Guyanese air controllers.

We believe that his action also has the potential for bringing to a head many of the simmering issues that have bedevilled relations between the government, which is the largest employer here, and its employees.

One of the unfortunate legacies that have been passed on from our colonial heritage is the penchant of the government workers to consider their employment as a sinecure and their employer, to possess infinite financial resources. This tendency has been intensified by the nature of their Trade Union representation that has often been more than a little influenced by political considerations.

The result has been a complete disjuncture between pay scales/increases and increases in productivity leading to an often over-bloated and ineffectual bureaucracy. While this description may not fit the air traffic controllers’ situation on all fours, their recent strike actions arise out of the prevalent mind-set.

What are the facts? Air traffic controllers perform what has been defined in all jurisdictions as an “essential service”. This should be apparent to all observers since in the modern world, it would be unthinkable for a nation to be bereft of air transportation with the rest of the world – and air traffic controllers are an indispensable element in ensuring that flights can take off and land.

Air traffic controllers used to be part and parcel of the traditional Civil Service – subject to their rules and, of course, their pay scales. They were also represented by the same trade union.

Some time ago, in recognition of the unique nature of their vocation and the demands on their time, etc., the Government took the not unreasonable decision to de-link the pay scales of the air controllers from that of the rest of the Civil Service and to increase those scales by several multiples. No one objected to the action – neither the controllers nor the union, which presumably saw its dues rise by a proportionate amount.

In the middle of January the controllers began to utter threats of strike-action because talks with Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, on claims of being owed retroactive pay, did not end to their satisfaction. And herein lies the crux of the air traffic controllers overreach and ultimately the present denouement.
The merry band of air traffic controllers had lapped up their gross inflation of salaries with nary a nod to their cohorts who remained stuck at the old Civil service pay-scales.

And in an astounding postscript to their distorted world view, they confessed that what drove them over the edge, so to speak, in their righteous anger over the Government’s slighting of their demands, was the latter’s decision to award the Disciplined Forces a Christmas bonus. If the Government could find the money to reward those comrades for vigilantly taking on armed terrorists of various stripes, including the gangs of Fine Man and Skinny, why couldn’t money be found for them, who had to so vigilantly scour the unfriendly skies?

When the Minister pointed out that twice the money that was allocated to the armed forces had been allocated to improve their working conditions and so make their vigilance easier deploy, it did not cut any ice.

There had been legislative efforts going back to 2006 to deal with those who provide essential services but we understand that it has not received Presidential affirmation. This may be due to the brouhaha that the trade union movement made at the time. The legislation spoke of a standing tribunal that would have dealt with grievances. However, under present practice public employees providing essential services may strike only if they provide the proper notice to the Ministry of Labour and leave a skeleton staff in place, but they are required to engage in compulsory arbitration to bring an end to a strike.

Nothing prevents Minister Benn from firing them for their ill-conceived strike: Guyana should not be held to ransom.

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