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Unread post by bimjim » Sat Feb 07, 2009

http://www.kaieteurnews.com/2009/02/04/ ... iming-low/

February 4, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom

An aviation pilot was in my day a glamorous career choice. I am told that today, many of our school-leavers aim not to fly in the air but on our roadways, and are excited at the prospects of becoming minibus drivers and conductors
In my day, the opportunities for becoming a pilot involved one of two alternatives: proceeding overseas for study or joining the Air Corps of the Guyana Defence Force.

The first was extremely costly and required that one notch up flying hours before receiving a pilot’s license. The second was not guaranteed and would involve subjecting oneself to training totally unrelated to one’s career goals.

When you are young, however, you are not that concerned about the challenges, believing that any hurdle can be surmounted. And for those who did not dream of becoming a pilot, for those who found that the will but not the means or opportunity was there, there was an equally glamorous profession to apply oneself: becoming an air traffic controller.

I once toyed with the idea of becoming an air traffic controller because I saw it as a gateway to becoming a pilot. The job I knew was mentally and physically demanding, requiring at all times alertness and good judgment. The problem was that unlike in other countries, this profession did not pay well in Guyana.

I am told that for all the training that is required to become an air traffic controller; and despite the shortage of such controllers, the pay received is abysmal in Guyana.

It should not be. Each day the lives of hundreds of passengers are in the hands of these controllers. Of course in Guyana we do not have a situation as in the top airports where thousands of planes take off and land each day, thus requiring extreme alertness on the job. Our operators do not have to man highly sophisticated radar systems which are necessary when there is heavy aviation traffic. What we have in place works, but there will come a time when upgraded equipment will be in place.

I support any legitimate effort that is made by local air traffic controllers to improve their pay. I understand their predicament when it comes to improved benefits on the job. I think that we will continue to lose our trained personnel to higher paying jobs overseas unless we make a concerted effort to pay technical staff better.

I also appreciate that in Guyana it has always been difficult to have the government respect the demands of workers for betterment. Thus often the only weapon at the disposal of workers so as to draw attention to their plight is to withdraw their labour.

However, there are laws governing who can and under what circumstances labour can be withdrawn. I do not know about the local laws relating to air traffic controllers but what I do know is that in many countries there are usually laws which prohibit certain categories of workers, deemed essential services, from withdrawing strikes.

If there are similar laws in Guyana and if air traffic controllers are considered as essential services and yet proceed to strike, then in normal circumstances I would have supported the strikers being fired as was done years ago under the Reagan administration.

In Guyana, however, the government is not inclined to act unless it is pressured, and therefore what we may have was a situation in which the air traffic controllers had no choice but to take precipitate action.

My understanding of the dispute is that the controllers are claiming that they are owed some money for two years. This is a demand for unpaid benefits and not a demand for increased benefits. The government may have a different opinion.

In such circumstances, there is no reason why a solution cannot be brokered that would avoid the huge losses and inconvenience which is being occasioned by the strike.

If certain categories of workers are prohibited from taking industrial action because they are considered as part of the essential services, then it behooves the employer of those workers, in this instance the government, to have in place administrative mechanisms to independently resolve in a quick and timely manner any industrial grievance these workers may suffer.

In this instance, therefore, and in order to bring to an end the highly disruptive strike that is now on at our airports, I would urge the government to establish a tribunal to examine the merits of the case of the air traffic controllers. This would allow for the strike to be called off and for a determination of if indeed these workers are owed any money.

As I mentioned in a previous column, there are many respected persons within our society who are willing, free of cost, to play a role in moving this country forward and the services of these persons should be utilised in the first instance in resolving differences which can become highly disruptive to the economy of this country.
There is no reason why a simple dispute over unpaid benefits should be allowed to have reached the stage where the country’s main airport is almost shutdown.

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