Airport chaos as staff fail to show up

By DANA SMITH dsmith@tribunemedia.net TOURISTS and business travellers were left waiting in line for hours - some even fainting due to the heat and humidity - after Customs and Immigration officers failed to show up to work at Lynden Pindling International Airport on Saturday afternoon, according to an e-mail sent to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham. Director of Immigration Jack Thompson was even forced to work the booths to process passengers because of the shortage of employees, it is claimed. At a press conference in Exuma on Saturday, Mr Ingraham said he believes the reported protest is "politically motivated" and read from an e-mail received from the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) which detailed Saturday's "chaotic" situation. "I got the following e-mail from the NAD... it says that none of the immigration line officers showed up - such very few senior officers showed," he said. "Jack Thompson actually had to man a booth to process passengers." Between 11am and 3pm, the airport "literally had more than a hundred passengers backed up" into the new US terminals. "Longer lines than we've ever seen before," Mr Ingraham read. "Some people were in the queue for approximately two hours. There were people who fainted and no nurse was on duty, and unfortunately there were significant press calls on the British Airways flight to cover Prince Harry's visit - they were very unhappy." The e-mail said the airport expected yesterday to be "even more chaotic" as a 25 per cent increase in passengers was expected and they felt they could not operate if immigration and customs workers, again, failed to show. "With more than 5,200 passengers expected tomorrow (Sunday), the key to avoiding complete and irrevocable disaster such as someone having a heart attack due to circumstances is to have sufficient immigration officers on duty - full complement, opposed to five or six as we had today." After reading the e-mail, Mr Ingraham told the press: "The activities of the immigration officers and the union, in particular, appear to be motivated by something other than legitimate grievances. Indeed, I think it is politically motivated." He was referring to the Bahamas Customs and Immigration Allied Workers Union (BCIAW) who he met with on February 25 to discuss issues involving work hours, overtime, and their 2005 Industrial Agreement. He would not expand on the comment but later said unions are "no different from anybody else." "When election is coming up lots of people think now is the time to make my demands," Mr Ingraham said. "But the reality is, when we are doing business like this, it doesn't matter whether it's election time or not election time, I should do what is simply best for the Bahamas while I'm in this office... and so I can't be pressured by any such people." Speaking of their absence on Saturday afternoon, Mr Ingraham stated the shift system is in effect and "nearly all of them" had been hired by the public service with a condition in their contract that sates they shall work on shift. "Persons who do not return to work, forthwith, will be dealt with by the public service without regard to any other consideration. We are serious about this," he said. A call to Mr Thompson confirmed he was still "in the booth" processing passengers but he would not comment further. Airport worker Debra Johnson said operations were "moving smoothly" in the customs hall, yesterday, and about eleven immigration officers and five customs officers showed up for work. BCIAW's acting president, Sloane Smith, could not be reached for comment. It was last Wednesday that officers walked off the job after Mr Smith advised staff to revert to the work schedule set for public servants in General Orders: from 9am to 5pm. The shift system has been a long-standing contentious issue for the workers, who feel that there are no guidelines to organize and evenly distribute overtime work. At February 25's meeting, Mr Ingraham advised that workers will be compensated for overtime pay as far back as March 31, 2010.


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