By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN estimated 80 percent of airport workers in New Providence who engaged in a lightning strike on Monday did not return to work yesterday, despite a recent court ruling ordering them to report for duty.
"We have about 60 percent on the Family Islands and in Nassau, it's still about 80 percent that did not show up, so it's still severe in Nassau. The Family Islands is better,” Managing Director of the Bahamas Airport Authority (BAA) Peter Rutherford said yesterday.
He was contacted for an update on the situation after Labour Minister Keith Bell told reporters a number of workers had returned to work for the Tuesday morning shift.
He said their return to work allowed for operations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) to return to “some degree of normalcy."
“I am pleased to report that while we do not have 100 per cent of the persons back to work, a number of the persons have reported to work this morning at the 4.30am shift,” Mr Bell said before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
“As it all stands, all operations at the international airport have returned to some degree of normalcy. Let me say that again, this is a government of transparency and accountability and, of course, we want to embrace all of the labour relations and all of the labour unions to ensure that we continue to work with them.”
“We know that there have been long-standing pressing issues and as we as a cabinet seek to get through those, we ask all of the unions and the workers to continue having confidence in the system and allow us to get through it.”
In a separate interview, Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper told reporters that while more employees had returned to their stations, officials still had a lot of “sick slips” for employees who have not yet returned to work
This comes after operations at LPIA were severely impacted on Monday after more than 200 workers from the BAA called in sick in protest of outstanding payments and a stalled industrial agreement among other things.
In a ruling handed down hours after Monday’s industrial action, Justice Denise Lewis-Johnson declared the sickout as illegal, ordering workers to go back to work.
She said the Bahamas Public Service Union was in breach of the Industrial Relations Act “by calling, organising, inducing, inciting or procuring its officers and/or members to continue to participate in industrial action amounting to a strike.”
She also granted the airport authority an interlocutory injunction against BPSU.
BPSU president Kimsley Ferguson did not respond to this newspaper’s calls yesterday.
However, Mr Bell said he expects union members will fully comply with the order, warning there could be consequences should workers refuse to abide by the ruling.
According to the Labour Minister, anyone who is found in contravention of the Industrial Relations Act can be liable to a fine of up to $200 or a prison sentence not exceeding three months or both.
Asked yesterday what will happen should workers refuse to return to work, he replied: “We’ll let justice take its course and that’s all I will say at this time.
"This is a labour friendly government. At the end of the day, we all want what’s fair and just. We want to be fair in our deliberations and we want to ensure that there is due process and so again, I think it would be very premature for me to say what will happen to those persons until we really discover what is the reason why they may not have come to work (Tuesday) morning.”
The union believes there has not been enough movement by the government to resolve their long-standing concerns, saying workers have had enough.
To this, Mr Bell said union leaders must appreciate that the process of finalising labour agreements can sometimes be time consuming and does not happen right away.
However, he suggested the government needs to find a way to address the matter faster.
“I think that we’re going to have to find some mechanism where we’re going to have to address these agreements in a more rapid way... As you would appreciate by the time the persons sit around the table and we go through these agreements and we come to an understanding (after) going back and forth, the time has elapsed,” he said.
“So, on the one hand, while government has to bear in mind the limitations on its purse, the union on the other hand is trying to get as much as they possibly can for its membership and so, therefore, it means that sometimes relations are strained and sometimes, negotiations are halted for many number of reasons.
“And so what you find happening is sometimes there may be agreements on some matters, but not on the others and that is part of the reason why these negotiations take so long, but I hope that we’re able to continue to work through all of these agreements, but I can say that I’m very happy and pleased with where we are in respect to the agreement with the nurses, with the doctors, with the public unions despite the action yesterday.”
Yesterday, Press Secretary Clint Watson told reporters that the Prime Minister met with Mr Ferguson earlier that morning to speak about the industrial action.
He said the two agreed to meet at a later date to come up with an amicable solution and added Mr Ferguson “committed that his members will be back to work.”