By NEIL HARTNELL
and YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporters
TOURISM officials yesterday warned that further “industrial strife” at Family Island airports could endanger the sector’s COVID-19 recovery after staff at several gateways failed to report to work over ongoing grievances.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business: “Whilst we may sympathize with what they’re doing, we’re extremely concerned that when we’re just trying to recover we’re having industrial strife.
“The sooner we get past this the better. There has to be collaboration. Quite frankly, we’re in recovery mode, and if we don’t have it we can’t give it.”
The industrial action resulted in the closures, temporarily at least, of airports in Abaco, Bimini, Cat Island and South Andros. Between 12 to 20 workers were understood to have called in sick and withdrawn their labour.
However, the impact was muted due to the fact that the industrial action largely occurred after most early morning flights had either arrived or taken off. And it also took place in early September at the traditional low point of the tourism season when many Family Island resort properties are closed for refurbishing.
Carl Rolle, general manager at Rollez Villas in Cat Island, told Tribune Business he received four guests yesterday and there was no closure of the New Bight Airport at any time.
He added: “I am not aware of any closure and we have not been affected. We had some guests come in yesterday and they are now in place.
“As a result of this pandemic I try not to go anywhere near the airport if I don’t have to, so I wouldn’t know much about it anyway.”
Leslie Kennedy, manager at the Pigeon Cay Beach Club in Cat Island, said she was unaware of airport staff failing to show up for work but had not had any guests coming in or leaving to confirm that flights were affected.
An employee at the South Bimini airport, speaking under condition of anonymity, said: “The security officers at the airport showed up for work, but it was the firemen that walked off yesterday.
“The thing is the rest of the workers are not in a union, so we can’t afford to walk off of our job. We will be replaced immediately.”
Alfred Sweeting, general manager of the Seacrest Hotel and Marina in Bimini, said: “I’ve been working on a project for the past few days and I have not had a chance to notice any strange happenings at the airport.
“Most of our guests come in by boat in any event from Florida, and it has been slow over the past few weeks, so we have not been affected by any airport issues at all.”
Algernon Cargill, the Government’s director of aviation, said airports on Abaco, Bimini, Cat Island and South Andros were closed as a result of the industrial action, which he branded “illegal” and “disappointing”.
“The Airport Authority is fully aware that the Bahamas Public Service Union has co-ordinated an illegal withdrawal of labour, and I say illegal because as far as I’m aware there’s been no trade dispute filed and, second, the Airport Authority has always acted in good faith with the Bahamas Public Service Union,” Mr Cargill said.