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Air Traffic Controllers strike action was badly handled

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Air Traffic Controllers strike action was badly handled

Unread post by bimjim » Tue Feb 10, 2009

http://www.kaieteurnews.com/2009/02/08/ ... y-handled/

Air Traffic Controllers strike action was badly handled
February 8, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under Letters

Dear Editor,

It appears as though we, a “democratic society”, have resorted to archaic, draconian and the most uncivil manner of settling disputes of any kind in our nation. The handling of the Air Traffic Controllers strike action is a case in point.

Minister Benn’s comments in the SN article dated 02/04/2009 and captioned “Benn issues ultimatum”, where he threatened that “… if the workers do not turn up for their scheduled hours of work then it would be considered that they voluntarily separated themselves from the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) “, was a most unfortunate and unlettered demand.

This threat was issued to the Air Traffic Controllers who were on strike, to address matters regarding an increase in their wages and salaries. The strike saw the Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Robeson Benn issuing an ultimatum to the workers, who, according to them, is the biggest obstacle to any real solution to the dispute.

Minister Benn’s aggressive manner in dealing with the dispute certainly created an atmosphere only capable of deepening the problem.

From Benn’s actions, it appears as though the resolution to the conflict depends on how much muscle either side demonstrates, or how much political robustness is exhibited. These “strong arm” methods we see demonstrated by senior government functionaries are not likely to pave the way for grievances to be settled in an amicable manner, and in the present case are not going to aid the workers movement back on to their jobs.

Mr. Benn should have known that such “big stick” methods are no longer useful in civilized and cultured societies, especially when both sides feel that their cause is a just one.
There also seems to be a confusion of the chain of command when the President is absent from the country.

This was evident in the comments made by the Prime Minister and acting President, Samuel Hinds and the actions of Minister Benn. In SN, 02/05/09 the headline read “Firing point not yet reached - PM, then in the Kaieteur News of that same date the related news caption read “Minister Benn sacks Air Traffic Controllers”.

In the SN article the Prime Minister is reported to have said that he did not believe government had reached the point of firing the striking aircraft traffic controllers. In the Benn article it was reported that Benn’s ultimatum has taken effect and that letters of termination were issued to the 15 employees who had picketed the Minister’s office.

My reading of these strange facts suggests that there seems to be no decent administrative discussion on the matter. Officials seem to be acting and talking on the issue based on how they feel, as individuals, on the subject.

Clearly the PM did not think the drastic action to fire workers was warranted by Minister Benn, who, obviously having a point to prove, felt otherwise.

The question is, did any reasonable executive discussion took place on how this delicate matter should be handled? Did PM Hinds advise Minister Benn that dismissal of the workers was not an option the government should entertain? Clearly, these instances demonstrate that there seem to be real leadership problems within the executive arm of the state. Or is it that the PM is taken for granted?

It is also unfortunate that the Prime Minister seemed to be unaware that advertisements to fill the positions of the dismissed Air Traffic Controllers were being broadcast regionally. How can Minister Benn initiate all these actions and the Prime Minister and acting President is unaware of these happenings?

And speaking about recruiting employees from outside of Guyana, wouldn’t this decision result in even more cost for the Guyana government, than if they were to pay the striking workers their due? Further, I wonder which Caribbean government would be eager to put their own citizens out of gainful employment, in this period of grave economic recession, to facilitate Guyanese.

I believe that had this matter been dealt with in a more civilized manner, that an amicable solution was possible. Instead, what happened is that the Minister seems to be on a mission to demonstrate to the employees that he is indeed the “boss”.

It appears as though no real consideration was paid to the concerns raised by the workers; the government’s response that the poor physical condition of the Control Tower was the main reason why workers could not benefit from increased pay packages at the moment was plainly out of context.

These are matters that should have been provided for in the government’s capital expenditures. Since the Minister noted that these repairs were long over due, he should have ensured that the repair cost was budgeted for in the National Budget. So, this lapse on his part, for failing to do his job, should not be thrown on the workers as though it was their fault that they cannot have their wages and salary issues resolved.

While it is critical that a conducive work environment and adequate equipment be provided for workers to perform their duties effectively, it is also necessary that the total well-being of employees be respected by their employers.

I am disappointed on how this entire matter was handled by the government and trust that the President’s intervention would bring some sanity to the situation. Recruiting other Caribbean nationals to fill the positions of these professionals will not solve the problem, but may exacerbate the fall out.

Intimidation followed by “carried out threats” is not the way to solve industrial relations disputes in this modern day, and they certainly cannot be touted as a deterrent to legitimate strike action. I also believe that the government should seek to invest more in training more persons to fill this vastly demanding job.

Lurlene Nestor

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