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[TCI] Air traffic controllers to be awarded pay increases, says premier

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[TCI] Air traffic controllers to be awarded pay increases, says premier

Unread post by bimjim » Tue Nov 12, 2019

https://tcweeklynews.com/air-traffic-co ... 28-127.htm

[TCI] Air traffic controllers to be awarded pay increases, says premier
Olivia Rose
November 11, 2019

The Turks and Caicos Islands Airports Authority (TCIAA) is in the process of increasing the salaries and improving working conditions of air traffic controllers (ATCs).

Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson made this revelation during an address to the nation on Wednesday, October 30, following a day of demonstration at Providenciales’ airport.

"The ATCs expressed their concerns and were given proof that the issues were being addressed,” she said, "and they were satisfied with the documentary proof that the TCIAA had done its part, as promised, in the meetings held with them in recent weeks.”

On Friday, October 25, disgruntled air traffic controllers at Providenciales International Airport downed tools and reported sick to protest what they described as management’s blatant disregard for their services and livelihood.

The workers said the nature of their job is "arduous” and condemned the unfavourable work conditions, revealing that they are currently understaffed and underpaid.

The Weekly News was reliably informed that the average salary for an air traffic controller is about $3,200 per month compared to their Caribbean counterparts in Jamaica or the Bahamas who earn between $4,500 and $6,000 monthly.

The industrial action triggered a chain reaction in the TCI’s economy which is predominantly fuelled by tourism.

The workers’ no-show resulted in a complete shutdown of the airport which affected hundreds of travellers to and from the territory.

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

Several hotels and resorts and other tourism dependent businesses across the territory suffered huge losses as visitors scheduled to arrive into the country cancelled their reservations due to the strike.

Statutory bodies are governed by boards
During her address, the premier reminded the public that the TCIAA is a statutory body, which means it does not fall under the purview of the Government.

She said: "These bodies are governed by boards, not by the elected Government or the deputy governor.

"The former board demitted office in March this year and Mr Andre Malcolm Junior was appointed the new chairman.

"Because this is a critical area and because the action of the staffing had an international impact, it became evident, very clearly, that as premier and minister with responsibility I had to become involved very early, though meanwhile respecting the Airports Authority’s board’s authority and remit.

"I am thankful for Mr Malcolm’s role on Friday and am confident in his leadership.

"Once he was made aware of the issues, decisions already taken at management level were endorsed and other commitments to be made, were made.”

Cartwright Robinson said on Friday morning she was informed earlier on by the acting CEO that ATCs on shift had reported sick.

"The acting CEO immediately began efforts to reach persons to fill in so that the American Airlines flight on the ground could leave.

"During his (and eventually the board’s) efforts, I made contact with the Civil Aviation Authority, who are the regulators, and invited all to a meeting.

"While we were gathered for the meeting, we were advised that the ATCs had gathered at a restaurant in the Grace Bay area with strike paraphernalia and holding signs.”

No contact

Cartwright Robinson explained that the protesting workers had made no contact with the Airports Authority, the board or the Government and there was no identifiable spokesperson or letter delivered.

She said: "The acting CEO and the chairman of the board left and went to meet with the ATCs who handed them two letters: one dated September and the other dated Friday’s date; all items listed in the September letter were not included in the October letter as there was demonstrable progress.

"Immediately we were informed that two meetings had been held with the ATC over the past months and I encouraged the acting CEO and chairman to seek an audience with the ATCs away from the few members of the public who had come to the scene.

"Whilst on site, former premier Michael Misick appeared as well as elected member for Cheshire Hall who both took different approaches.

"I wish to thank Hon. Parnell for his efforts to assist in securing a meeting between the ATCs and the acting CEO and the chairman of the board.

"Though a time for midday was confirmed, this was frustrated as we were advised by ATCs that they were told not to meet the Government by the elected member Hon. Josephine Connolly who had by then, together with former premier Michael Misick, joined the demonstration and were holding placards.

"Flow’s social media representative and PNP candidate soon joined in and began live coverage.”

Cancelled flights

The premier said there were attempts by members of the Opposition to bait her to the street to hear the sensitive concerns that were raised by the workers.

She said: "I resisted all urges as this matter was too sensitive in many cases to seek to address on the curb side.

"I thank the ATCs who did not take this stance but who agreed to meet at 2pm at my office.

"By this time, failing the earlier meeting, we had to issue a notice to airlines and all flights including international flights offered by AA and JetBlue were cancelled.

"I had invited their spokesperson or spokespersons and was pleasantly surprised that all ATCs came and met with myself, the deputy premier, the minister of immigration, the chairman and the acting CEO for nearly four hours.”

Cartwright Robinson further disclosed that back in 2017 before the hurricanes she met privately with the workers to discuss low salary and the state of the control tower, a sore issue since early 2000s.

"I must admit that the next budget passed in 2018 after the hurricanes did not include the new proposed building but this budget 2019-2020 does and in September an artist rendition was released publicly.

"Nonetheless, works are to be done to the existing place and commitments were already made by the TCIAA in this regard and endorsed by the board and myself.

"The matter of salaries were reported for action but regrettably did not move fast enough.

"This new board appointed in March received an update on the works towards a salary review as recent as a week before the strike on Friday, October 18.

"Whilst salary was a critical issue for the ATCs, they were reasonable and mature in their approach as the process was explained,” the premier said.

Reputational damage

Premier Cartwright Robinson stressed that while the impact of the airport shutdown was still being he tabulated and analysed; what has not and cannot be analysed or monetised is the fall out in reputation for the destination.

She said: "Whilst persons will focus on monetary value, I have asked the chairman of the Tourist Board to seek information from the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association and others as to the number of guests that were impacted.”

Many passengers who were stranded at the airport for hours during the shutdown took to social media to express their frustration with the vexing situation.

One traveller, Jennifer Brinkschroeder, said: "Everyone that was scheduled to leave today [Saturday] still get 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.”

In response to these complaints, the premier apologised for the inconvenience caused to visitors.

"I have been receiving stories of residents and visitors alike and again apologise for this tragic experience to have befallen this beautiful destination.”

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