Services were disrupted at Eleuthera airports over the weekend after some Airport Authority employees participated in a sickout because their pay was a day late, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.
“…The Airport Authority employees are supposed to be paid on Thursday,” D’Aguilar said.
“The treasury was a day late. They were paid on Friday and most of them were paid by the end of business on Friday.
“Prior to that end of business on Friday, I am advised that [Bahamas Public Service Union] President Mr. Kimsley Ferguson, told them to withdraw their labor by calling in sick. And so, on Saturday morning and today, a number of the staff…have secured, especially the ones in Nassau, sick slips and have called in sick.
“First and foremost, it has had no impact here in New Providence.
“A number of the staff and a number of the management team have gone into the breach and secured the situation. So, there has been no impact on services coming out of New Providence. And then there were four other impacted airports – North Eleuthera, Governor’s Harbour, Rock Sound and, I am advised, San Salvador.”
He noted that services were not disrupted on San Salvador.
D’Aguilar said some flights into Governor’s Harbour were delayed because of the sickout, while North Eleuthera’s Airport was closed on Saturday morning, but opened later that day.
“So, in the mornings, a number of flights were impacted, but sufficient Airport Authority staff came to work and they were, for all intents and purposes, able to service all of the aircraft that presented at those airports.”
D’Aguilar said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting slowdown in air travel, salaries for Airport Authority employees have had to be covered by emergency funding from the treasury. However, the strain on the treasury has resulted in difficulties in managing cash flow, which has sometimes led to delays.
“The revenues of the Airport Authority has been significantly impacted by the massive reduction in traffic, leading to emergency funding from the treasury at a time when the treasury is suffering a significant shortfall in revenue because of a reduction in tourism,” D’Aguilar said.
“So, this is causing some challenges with meeting payrolls in a number of these aviation-related businesses, just meeting cash flow considerations.
“…How they juggle their funds and how they move their funds around is causing some challenges for them, and this is causing, sometimes, some delays in meeting the requirements of some of the aviation-related businesses that are owned by the government.”
However, D’Aguilar said those employees should keep in mind that, unlike many other Bahamians, they have been receiving their full salaries throughout the pandemic.
“It is very important to emphasize that the employees of the Airport Authority are clearly working a lot less than they once were because traffic is substantially less,” he said.
“In many instances, they are working two or three days of the week, but yet they are receiving their full compensation. So, while the union would like to emphasize where monies are outstanding, it is important to understand that the taxpayer is carrying the load and covering the shortfalls.”
Englerston MP and Shadow Minister of Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin drew attention to the matter in a statement issued on Saturday.
“It is reported that all international airports in Eleuthera have been shut down to inbound and outgoing air traffic due to the apparent boycott of Airport Authority staff including security officers,” she said.
“I am advised that the staff boycott is in protest to a number of long outstanding matters affecting the well-being of officers in that agency.
“The minister of aviation must immediately address this most serious state of affairs. There is far too much self-congratulating taking place in this administration in the face of tremendous failings negatively affecting the interests of our citizens.”
D’Aguilar said while he believes most of the longstanding issues have been addressed, some remain outstanding.
“The first is this increment that was negotiated back in 2015, which was paid in 2015, but for the period of 2016 through 2020, it was outstanding,” he said.
“And it is the intention of the government to pay that over the next six months. Now, some of the staff are saying they want it now, but everybody has to understand the difficulties in cash flow that are being experienced by the government in trying to meet all the shortfalls that are arising all over the place.
“And secondly, when the Family Island employees were incorporated into the Airport Authority, I think officially on July 1, 2017, they are of the view that they should be making the same amount of money as the persons in Nassau.
“There is some disagreement that, you know, they are not working quite as hard, or don’t deal with the amount of traffic or have to be of a certain level of expertise at a Family Island airport. I understand that they are negotiating who gets what and how that is addressed, but the government feels that it has addressed most of the matters.”
D’Aguilar said Hanna-Martin should keep in mind that the government is stretched thin in terms of revenue, especially as it tries to maintain social assistance programs for the many people who are unemployed.
“In response to the member for Englerston, every time she stands up in the House of Assembly, she asks for food assistance, rent assistance, housing assistance for her constituents,” D’Aguilar said.
“So, if the public service, where everyone is being paid their full salary, keeps asking for more and more and more, that leaves less and less and less to cover these other critical needs.
“I just ask public servants who have all received their full pay during this entire pandemic, [and] have not been affected in any way by this pandemic, to understand that there are 30,000 to 40,000 tourism workers and many others related to the tourism industry that are not receiving a dollar.
“And the government is trying to assist them as well. So, we must all temper our asks in order to spread the little that we have over as many people as we can.”