By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
DEPUTY Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis said last week’s “corporate sabotage” from Bahamasair pilots should quicken the government’s effort to privatise the cash-strapped airline.
He also hit out at the “irresponsible” and “selfish” acts of Bahamasair pilots, who left thousands of passengers stranded after a two-day “sick out” right before Christmas. He added that stakeholders need to realise the airline is “no longer an essential service”.
Mr Davis, who has ministerial responsibility for Bahamasair, added that the pilots’ actions did not give the government any reason to consider expanding services or routes and instead highlights the need to reduce government’s heavy financial investment in the airline, which he called a financial burden.
He also suggested that the pilots may be punished appropriately for their “unlawful” industrial action, adding that the costs incurred from the sick out may prompt him to withdraw the
government’s proposal for the pilots’ new contract.
While Mr Davis did not say what penalties, if any, the pilots would face, a well-placed source told The Tribune their pay will be docked for the missed work days. The government is also considering asking the pilots to pay for the losses the airline incurred due to the industrial action.
“The recent unprovoked and unwarranted industrial action taken by the pilots of the national flag carrier, Bahamasair, is of great concern to the government of the Bahamas in that the cost and inconvenience to the traveling public calls for immediate action to be taken to avoid further occurrences,” Mr Davis said in a statement released yesterday.
“I am deeply troubled that pilots took this unlawful and unwarranted industrial action less than six hours after being informed that the minister of labour would take their proposal to Cabinet the following day – nothing was refused, nothing was denied. The fact that they took this action anyway – without even filing a trade dispute clearly indicates it was always their intent to disrupt the airline’s ability to operate.”
He added that the government “has given considerable effort to securing a strategic partner for Bahamasair, but this gross act of corporate sabotage brings cause for acceleration of the government’s efforts to relieve the Bahamian taxpayer of this heavy financial burden. Moreover, irresponsible and selfish acts of this nature do not provide the shareholder with an incentive to pursue any form of service or route expansion. In fact this behaviour demonstrates the need to fully consider the merits of retrenchment as a more realistic course of action.”
Up to June 2013, the government has pumped $541 million into Bahamasair since its creation 41 years ago. Mr Davis said this funding could have gone to build new schools or hospitals, improve infrastructure or be used in the fight against crime.
“Quite frankly, all concerned must come to grips with the reality that Bahamasair is no longer an essential service,” he added.
He said international airlines provide most of the airline traffic into the country while over the past eight years, 31 local carriers have been licensed to provide scheduled services in the country.
He also said Bahamasair pilots are well-paid, earning more than regional counterparts despite having less flying hours.
“The facts are, a senior jet captain with Bahamasair makes up to $132,000 annually before overtime. By comparison a Bahamasair senior Dash 8 captain makes up to $91,000 which is staggering when considering that his regional equivalent with LIAT airways makes $36,000 annually after 15 per cent income tax. Additionally, pilots make up only ten per cent of the entire staff at Bahamasair but account for 30 per cent of the payroll; there is something wrong with this picture.”
Mr Davis said these points would lead any reasonable thinking person to agree that the pilots’ actions were unconsionable.
“I have directed that management provide me with the full costing of the past week’s events,” he added. “In full view of the costs and embarrassment to the company and the pilots’ insensitivity to the Bahamian people, their recent action may have consumed the limited resources necessary to facilitate our last proposal and may necessitate that we withdraw that proposal. Moreover, the financial impact of recent events is nowhere as damaging as will be the negative publicity received from local and international travellers, which is immeasurable. This may take years to recover from, especially when hearing locals say they will never fly Bahamasair again balanced against the comments of tourists who say ‘they will never return to the Bahamas,’ all as a result of this terrible experience brought on by the actions of a group of selfish individuals.”
On December 24, Bahamasair said it had “resumed normal operations” and the “sick out” had ended.
The sick out began last week Monday after failed negotiations over the pilots’ new contract with the government.
On Tuesday, Captain Joseph Moxey, the president of the Bahamas Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said his members are “not being unreasonable” in their demands for increment pay.
He apologised to the public for the situation, but said the pilots were “stressed out and mentally drained” and it was not safe for them to fly a plane in that state.