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2005-05-17 10:17:45

Air Traffic Controllers Renew Demands

In 2001, negotiations hit rocky ground after union members staged a work to rule at Nassau International Airport that ended with the FNM government suspending more than 30 of them.

Nearly 80 air traffic controllers are hoping that the government would budget more than a half million dollars in salary payout for them collectively as part of a new industrial agreement they hope to soon finalize.

Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union President Roscoe Perpall has indicated that his members are quickly losing faith after coming so close so many times to concluding the agreement only to have it face more delays.

In 2001, the union was reportedly in the final moments of closing the deal, but those negotiations hit rocky ground after union members staged a work to rule at Nassau International Airport that ended with the Free National Movement government suspending more than 30 of them.

Since then, negotiations have resumed with the present government, a process that has apparently had its fair share of setbacks.

In fact, Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin has admitted that resolving the issue has called for discussions with a number of key government offices, including her ministry, the Department of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance.

"Up to the time the government suspended us, we were told that we were in the final stages of negotiations - more than 90 percent concluded. Today, the PLP government is saying the same. When you look at it from this perspective, this is not sufficient," Mr. Perpall said.

"We have tried our best to meet the government's demands and those areas that were problematic, we have tried to resolve them. We have bent over backwards for the government. So, I really don't know what's behind the delay, but we still have hope that government [officials] would stick to their word, although as the moments pass we are losing faith."

The union's proposed industrial contract essentially calls for provisions for medical insurance, compensation for holiday pay and salary increases, he indicated.

According to Mr. Perpall, union members have agreed to give the government a little more time to consider some of their demands, hoping to fast-track the signing of the contract.

"Because of the cost involved in implementing the medical insurance, the government has agreed to undertake a study with a year to determine the feasibility of this," Mr. Perpall revealed.

"We doubt that the government would be so deliberate as to exclude provisions [for salary increases for air traffic controllers] in this budget. I think it would be a huge political mistake and an insult to the workers of Nassau International Airport," Mr. Perpall charged.

"It appears as though the government is very slow in responding when there is a good working relationship with unions. They appear only to respond when there is agitation. But we will continue to try and resolve this issue amicably with the government.

"We have decided to go the more peaceful route because we are hoping to win back the public's confidence in us. We also know we are duty bound to provide quality air traffic control service. But it seems that there are some in the government who have taken advantage of us."

According to Mr. Perpall, Minister Hanna-Martin is expected to present a paper on the issue to Cabinet today.

But the Minister could not be reached on Whit Monday to comment on the demands of the air traffic controllers.

By: Macushla N. Pinder, The Bahama Journal

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