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[Turks & Caicos] Strike shuts down Provo airport

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[Turks & Caicos] Strike shuts down Provo airport

Unread post by bimjim » Tue Nov 05, 2019

https://tcweeklynews.com/strike-shuts-d ... 98-149.htm

[Turks & Caicos] Strike shuts down Provo airport
-- Workers demand better wages and working conditions
November 04, 2019
Olivia Rose

HUNDREDS of travellers to and from the Turks and Caicos Islands had their plans disrupted by industrial action at Providenciales International Airport last Friday (October 25).

Disgruntled air traffic controllers downed tools and reported sick to protest what they described as "management’s blatant disregard for their services and livelihood”.

The employees, who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace, refused to work as they demanded the attention of authorities on issues affecting them in the workplace.

Poor working conditions, low pay and outdated equipment were some of the grievances highlighted by workers during the strike action.

Leader of the Opposition Hon. Washington Misick and other Opposition members stood in solidarity with the protesters who took to Salt Mills in Grace Bay to demonstrate their frustration.

The workers were armed with placards that read, ‘Low pay no way’, ‘We hold the keys to the country’, ‘Safety before faulty equipment’ and ‘We need new equipment now’.

Others said, ‘We work hard pay us for our service’ and ‘TCIAA CEO 168k/Air traffic controllers 37k”.

Controllers condemned the unfavourable work conditions and said they are understaffed and work in more severe and dangerous conditions than other employees.

The significant disparity between the CEO’s salary and that of the controllers was also highlighted during the protest.

One worker told the Weekly News that the demonstration was a last resort.

He said the employees repeatedly voiced their concerns to management but it appeared as though those concerns had fallen on deaf ears.

"This has been going on for months. We work long hard hours and they still do not want to pay us overtime.

"Some of us are barely making ends meet with the little pittance they give us, while the big bosses are eating steak and drinking wine daily. We deserve better pay,” the man said.

Another worker said: "The salary is so low, the cost of living is so high, what are they going to do?

"We’re not satisfied with the overtime…and we still have to climb that old rusty tower, no gratuities no nothing and this is happening across the board not only the air traffic controllers.

"We came here to ensure that the tourists and everyone know what we’re going through.”

Opposition leader Washington Misick said the shutdown of the airport could adversely affect the economy.

"It is a crying disgrace that the lifeline, the air services of this country, has come to a halt.

"That is going to affect everybody in this country, the employees, the airlines, the resorts, everybody is going to end up losing - there’s absolutely no winners in this situation.

"This situation is not new. It just didn’t happen overnight. The air control tower operators have been complaining about this for months and probably years.

"You have to treat people fairly, pay them well, provide good working conditions if you want them to produce.”

Misick called on the Government to quickly resolve the issue and restore normalcy to airport operations.

"The bottom line is this is a statutory body that is under the Ministry of Finance overseen by the premier. She must’ve known about this and nothing has been done about it.

"The premier is spending far too much time outside the country. Crisis after crisis and she’s outside the country...this is the third issue of the year where public sector workers have gone on strike to get the attention of this Government.

"It is absolutely ridiculous to think that important, key, necessary workers like the firefighters first and now the air traffic controllers have had to come to take to the streets in order to get the fair pay - seven years since they’ve received an increase. That’s totally unconscionable,” Misick said.

Shortly after the protest, Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson, Deputy Premier Hon. Sean Astwood and Minister Hon Vaden Williams met with the chairman of the TCIAA Board, Andre Malcolm, Director of TCIAA Board Godfrey Been and acting CEO Floyd Ingham to resolve the issue.

Air traffic controllers subsequently returned to work and flights resumed on Saturday morning, October 25, at 6am.

Passengers stranded

Last Friday’s protest action resulted in a complete shutdown of the airport which affected both international and domestic flights.

Morning and afternoon flights were cancelled, airplanes were grounded and many US, UK and Canada bound passengers were left stranded at the airport.

The Weekly News learned that resorts across the TCI have suffered losses in the tens of thousands of dollars as tourists scheduled to arrive into the county cancelled their reservations.

Several hotel representatives told this publication that they had to make quick adjustments to accommodate hundreds of irate tourists, scheduled to leave the country on Friday.

Many visitors were also forced to reroute their reservations to other neighbouring destinations.

Some passengers even took to the TCIAA Facebook page to express their frustration with the vexing situation.

One traveller, Jennifer Brinkschroeder, said: "Everyone that was scheduled to leave today [Saturday] still gets to leave while the people scheduled to leave Friday are still stuck on the island.

"I need to get off this island. This was the best vacation and has turned into a nightmare.”

Another tourist Dena McConnell said: "We are stuck at the Providenciales airport in Turks and Caicos.

Apparently the air traffic controllers have gone on strike.

"No arrivals or departures today. What a dreadful end to a wonderful vacation. While we love it here, we won’t be returning.”

Another disgruntled traveller said: "Seriously, there are hundreds of people who need to leave PLS, and there are those who are at airports around the world looking to land at PLS.”

Other tourists complained about the additional expenses they incurred due to unforeseen delays.

One man said: "Its 5.33pm PLS time... was supposed to leave today and can’t get a flight out... having to pay an additional $650 a night at our hotel.”

Minister of Tourism Hon. Ralph Higgs said the strike was "unacceptable” given the fact that no notice was given to the relevant authorities.

He said: "The time has come for us as a Government and people to move swiftly to further uphold the rights of all workers to engage in industrial action but within a well-defined and detailed set of rules.”

Higgs argued that while workers have a right to protest, those employed by the Government and its agencies, classified as essential services, should not be allowed to strike without giving at least 72 hours’ notice.

He said: "This notice which should follow good faith negotiations by all parties involved, would allow for contingency measures to be put in place to ensure performance of essential services by the Government, private sector and particularly in our medical sector.

"In no progressive country are workers allowed to essentially close down the country without proper and due notice.

"Today I ask you to think of all the people who are relying on life saving medicines that were scheduled to come in to TCI or fly out on airlines today.

"How about the thousands of travellers, some travelling for medical reasons, or simply on their vacation who will endure hardship or inconvenience through no fault of their own because of this strike action.

"Imagine the knock-on government and business revenue and the reputational knock that our country’s image takes in the travelling world.

"This is bad for business, bad for our people and frankly, unacceptable.”

The tourism minister said he is in support of urgent legislation to uphold worker rights to engage in strike action but with safeguards to protect the public’s interest and minimise losses to the public’s purse and private business.

"We can do this. Let’s do it. Let’s bring our labour laws into the 21st century,” Higgs added.

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