By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
A SMALL group of Leonard M Thompson International Airport security officers walked off the job last week, but the situation never compromised the already strained operations of the facility, Tourism Minister Dionisio D'Aguilar said yesterday.
According to the minister, the industrial action did not exceed the involvement of 10 people, adding that currently only about 13 regular Abaco staff remained.
He explained that regularly there are about 43 staff members, including management, at that airport, but since Hurricane Dorian's passage around 30 staff now work at other airports in the country.
His comments were in response to a press statement from Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, opposition spokesperson on transport and aviation, who raised alarm about the situation yesterday. She insisted that not only did the walkout potentially jeopardise airport security, but there were also complaints that officials of the Airport Authority had given workers no support in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Mrs Hanna-Martin said they were mandated to return to work within days of the natural disaster, despite their own personal devastating circumstances.
However, according to the minister, the complaints had emanated from those people who opted to stay on the island despite the option to be placed anywhere they chose.
Others, he said, stayed because they didn't have family elsewhere and believed they could rebuild homes that did not sustain substantial damage.
He admitted that working conditions on the island were challenged, but officials were working as best they could to address the issues.
The airport has been running off a back up generator for several weeks and mechanical issues with the unit resulted.
There was also no running water.
To address the issue, Mr D'Aguilar said Bahamas Power and Light assured him another generator would be provided shortly and water had been restored.
He said: "So there was some industrial action taken at that airport I believe on Thursday or Friday where security personnel walked off the job and complained that the Airport Authority was not compassionate in dealing with them given the catastrophic loss that they would have suffered.
"Now it's important to note that first and foremost the former minister made the allegation that security was compromised when these persons walked off the airport and that never happened at all. There was always sufficient security officers there, number one and number two, additional security officers were flown in from Nassau to make sure that the posts were always manned, never a problem.
"After the storm, as you can imagine a number of officers from the Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay airport would have suffered catastrophic loss having been devastated by the storm.
"The Airport Authority flew them out off the island and brought them to Nassau to Exuma to Eleuthera - wherever they wanted to go to continue working. The Airport Authority accommodated them.
"Just last Wednesday I met with a group of airport workers in Nassau where the Airport Authority was making available to them counseling and assisting them in as many ways as they can."
He continued: "Obviously a number of them were traumatised by the event and the Airport Authority was dealing with it as best as they could.
"There were a number of personnel in Abaco who elected to remain in Abaco, for example, those that lived in Sandy Point or other parts of the island where the homes were not damaged. They elected to remain because they didn't have family or other places and they figured their homes weren't that damaged and they could repair them or they had none at all.
"So, yes, the working conditions in Marsh Harbour are quite challenging, but Marsh Harbour suffered an enormous devastating blow and a lot of things have been turned upside down."
Speaking on the issue, the former transport and aviation minister called on aviation officials to guarantee the integrity of the airport's security.
"The airport workers say there has been absolutely no support forthcoming from either the Airport Authority or the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation even though they were mandated to return to work within days of the natural disaster and despite their own personal devastating circumstances," Mrs Hanna-Martin said.
"We are advised that in the face of their homelessness and traumatised condition, the authorities appear oblivious to or even worse, unconcerned with, their suffering and their general plight. As a consequence, airport security officers left their posts.
"We are forced to call upon Hon Dionisio D'Aguilar to step up and ensure the necessary support is being provided to all airport workers impacted by this deadly hurricane. It is very unfortunate that there has been no support of these victims of Hurricane Dorian until now, yet they have been required to protect our national interests.
"The lack of empathy and sensitivity displayed by leadership is shameful."