At least 11 employees of Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA) were laid off last week, Director of Labour John Pinder confirmed yesterday.
Pinder said he was not aware of any further layoffs since then.
The airport, which is owned by the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and CK Hutchison Holdings, only just last month re-opened to international commercial flights after closing due to Hurricane Dorian in early September.
Questioned on the matter yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said he was “just speculating” that it is due to the decreased activity the airport is experiencing.
“As you know, the airport is scaled down so I imagine it is in response to that. Until activity picks up again, they don’t need the bodies that they had,” Turnquest said.
He added, “And so, whoever takes over the airport or if they decide to start up the airport, I suppose they would re-hire them as the airport needs.”
In the aftermath of Dorian, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed that government is eyeing the purchase of the airport.
Noting that the airport is “critical to the economy of Grand Bahama”, he said that Hutchison Ports had “not demonstrated” an effort to rebuild the airport to the state that it was prior to the storm and described the company as “somewhat reluctant”.
Last week, he told reporters that government was still “considering its options” as it is “not happy” with the state of disrepair the airport remains in, nor with the pace of repairs.
Yesterday, D’Aguilar echoed Turnquest’s comments on the layoffs, adding that “hopefully” once the airport has returned to pre-Dorian status there would be a need for employees to be re-hired.
Asked if the layoffs were related to the sale negotiations, D’Aguilar said, “No, I think it’s more related to just the decrease in business.
“Obviously that airport was operating to a, well had a certain amount of traffic, and was operating to that level but obviously the hurricane has sort of knocked them down, and the amount of business or the amount of traffic. And then obviously they’ve had the devastation that they’ve had to many of their buildings.
“I just think there just isn’t the throughput, by throughput I mean just the number of passengers, to warrant the employment levels that were pre-Dorian to maintain. And so, you can maintain it for a while but at some stage, I guess, economic reality begins to kick in.”
He added, “One would hope that, were the airport to return to its pre-Dorian levels, so too would employment levels return to their pre-Dorian levels.”
A Shelter Sector Bahamas document entitled “Post-Hurricane Social Trends in Grand Bahama”, which detailed the situation on the island as of November 5, reported that in Freeport, 47 percent of people were unemployed; in East End, 48 percent of people were unemployed; and West End had the highest number of unemployment at 60 percent.
Government officials, including Turnquest, have downplayed the survey as not being an official one from the Ministry of Social Services.
Representatives of the airport’s owners, both GBPA and Hutchison Port Holdings, have declined to comment on the layoffs.