Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin.
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
TRANSPORT and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin yesterday could not confirm whether disciplinary action will be taken against those air traffic controllers who engaged in a “sick out” over the Easter holidays as a form of industrial action.
However, Mrs Hanna Martin told The Tribune that the “focus” is now for the Christie administration to “get on the same page” with the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU) to ensure that the latter understands that “conduct of that nature is not acceptable.”
She also accused the union of seeking to “mete out the highest level of
punishment to the Bahamian people,” as she questioned the rationale behind Thursday’s “sick out” notwithstanding the union being involved in discussions with the government over their various concerns.
On Thursday, frustrated and angry travellers suffered lengthy delays and cancellations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) after a number of air traffic controllers engaged in a sick out.
At the time, Mrs Hanna Martin confirmed to The Tribune that the sick out - coordinated 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 traveling for the Easter holiday weekend.
The air traffic controllers were understood to be taking the protest action over a variety of concerns, which Mrs Hanna Martin said at the time ranged 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.”
Mrs Hanna Martin noted at the time that the Ministry of Labour is in “ongoing dialogue with the Union relative to some of those matters.”
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.
When contacted yesterday for an update on the matter, Mrs Hanna Martin said: “I think that the focus now is to seek to get on the same page with the union to avoid anything like this happening again. Because the truth is the impact was felt by the Bahamian people. That was where the punishment went.
“So I think that my focus would be to see how we can ensure that we’re on the same page so that the union will understand that conduct of that nature is not acceptable.”
However, she regretted the union’s actions, charging that the workers were merely “hurting the Bahamian people” by engaging in the sick out.
“When you chose one of the busiest times to make your point, it is your intention to mete out the highest level of punishment to the Bahamian people,” she said. “The union is sitting around the table as we speak, they’re in continuing discussions on some of those matters that they’ve listed as concerns.
“So if you’re sitting around the table, the question about why you saw it necessary to do something of that extreme nature is one that I think we all would like the answer to.”
She added: “My observation would be that the law provides for the methodologies of solving grievances on both sides, and that the actions taken the other day hurt the Bahamian people.”
On Thursday, as a result of the sick out, some tourists were reportedly being returned to their hotels and told to come back to LPIA to take a flight on Friday.
Some flights were also cancelled.
There were also 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 she had been waiting for the 12:30pm flight to Nassau and the plane to take them had not arrived from LPIA until 3pm.
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.
However, Thursday was not the first time recently the air traffic controllers have inconvenienced passengers. In September, a three-hour stoppage by the union over an Airport protocol mandating security screening of all personnel accessing the secured airside at LPIA caused delays and some cancellations.