The Lynden Pindling International Airport. (File photo)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FRUSTRATED and angry travellers suffered lengthy delays and cancellations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) on Thursday after a number of air traffic controllers engaged in a "sick out".
Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin confirmed to The Tribune that the 'sick out' - co-ordinated industrial action by employees not showing up for work by feigning illness - had occurred on the morning of one of the airport's busiest days of the year with people travelling for the Easter holidays.
"As a result of the action taken many international and domestic flights suffered significant delay with American Airlines cancelling three of its flights, I am advised," Mrs Hanna Martin said in a statement later. "The action taken by the (Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers) Union is of an extreme nature in its impact to the Bahamian people and our economy.
"It has led to economic loss, gross inconvenience and an unwarranted interference with the right to the enjoyment of movement by air. All of this has no doubt impacted the reputation of The Bahamas in the travel industry, the foundation of our economy."
The air traffic controllers were understood to be taking the protest action - which apparently came as a surprise - over a variety of concerns. Some tourists were reportedly being returned to their hotels and told to come back to LPIA to take a flight on Friday. Last night it was suggested that further American Airlines flights had been cancelled.
There were reports of passengers sitting on planes for up to two hours waiting to get airborne and cancellations of flights to the United States. One passenger in Freeport told The Tribune he had been waiting for the 12.30pm flight to Nassau and the plane to take them had not arrived from LPIA until 3pm.
"This morning, the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union engaged in an apparent industrial action with a number of air traffic controllers calling in sick," Mrs Hanna Martin's statement read. "The Bahamas Air Navigation Service Division (BANSD) put in place a contingency plan incorporating air traffic controllers who reported for duty along with online managers which permitted operations to continue.
"This industrial action, however, significantly slowed down the movement of aircraft during what is normally a very busy period before the Easter holidays.
"This action taken by surprise, relates, according to the President, to a number of outstanding matters which are the current subject of discussion with the Ministries of Transport and Labour ranging from the frequency of the shuttle service from the security checkpoint to the Tower to the payment of outstanding holiday pay and other money matters. Indeed the Minister of Labour is currently in ongoing dialogue with the Union relative to some of these matters."
The Easter holiday season is traditionally busy for the airport. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) said the delays are not unusual for airports around the world at this time of year.
It was not immediately known how many workers called in sick but there were unconfirmed reports that only one air traffic controller reported for the morning shift. The Tribune understands all but a few officers were in post on Thursday afternoon and that the backlog was being managed.
It is not the first time recently the air traffic controllers have inconvenienced passengers. In September, a three-hour stoppage by the union over an Airport Authority protocol mandating security screening of all personnel accessing the secured airside at LPIA caused delays and some cancellations.
Dr Hubert Minnis, Leader of the Free National Movement (FNM), was quick to lambast the government for its failure to pay government employees.
“Today we were given another instance of failed PLP leadership. This trend is unacceptable. We’ve learned that Air Traffic Control has had a work slowdown, forcing 40 planes to a one-hour ground hold. This is a direct result of the PLP government’s failure to ensure that government employees are paid what they are owed, when they are owed it,” Dr Minnis said in a statement on Thursday night.
“The lack of leadership from this government is highlighted every day. To have people working for you and then not to pay them is simply wrong. It follows the PLP’s trending neglect and lack of care for the constituents they’re indebted to help. The members of the government get paid on time. Why do they not treat all Bahamians with the same integrity? This is another case of the PLP taking care of themselves while leaving others to fend for themselves.”
“Under the leadership of the FNM, people will be paid what they are owed. No questions asked. It doesn’t matter if you are a customs employee, an immigration employee, an Air Traffic Controller or any other government employee. We will pay everyone for the service provided. On May 10th, it is time to elect an FNM government that cares.”