Air traffic controllers trickle back to work

Air Traffic Controllers started to trickle back to work yesterday, though some continued to be on sick leave following a sickout staged to protest the halting of a payout.

The union representing the aviation employees has now officially intervened, calling for the matter to be resolved, the obstruction to the payment be discontinued and the “unwarranted aggravation and harassment be put to an end.”

Contacted for a comment yesterday Transport Minister Robeson Benn confirmed that he sat in on a meeting with the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) management yesterday. However, he said, he was not at liberty to discuss the progress made at the meeting. He added that he hoped to come out with a position on the matter this afternoon, following another meeting with management.

In a statement yesterday, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) said its officials and representatives of the Air Traffic Control Association had pursued the matter of the intended payout with GCAA Chairman Brian James and management and certain decisions were made in this regard.

This, the GPSU said, included approval of salary scales for this year. This was implemented and made all salary levels consistent with a memo circulated by the authority.

The GPSU statement noted that Benn was appointed in 2006 while the issue dated back to 2002 and that discussions on it had been ongoing. The union said Benn’s intervention in what was a straightforward administrative and operational matter was unfortunate and inappropriate.

The statement acknowledged the important functions of Air traffic Controllers and noted that they were currently working under adverse conditions. It said it was normal for controllers to be required to work for 148 hours per month, but there was a staff shortage, which forced workers to put in close to 200 hours.

According to the statement, this situation has been further compounded since support staff for Air Traffic controllers, in some facilities, have recently been removed.

Meanwhile, the union has since written to GCAA Director General Zulficar Mohammed asking that the undertaking given by the authority in a departmental circular be fully honoured and payments, which are ready, be paid out forthwith and that all other payments in this regard be finalised with dispatch.

In the letter, the GPSU said it was disturbed over the minister’s action, which appeared to be an attempt to undermine what was agreed to.

The GCAA circular, signed by Director for Finance and Administration Hardat Singh, and which this newspaper has seen, said: “In December of 2007 approval was obtained from the chairman of our board of directors to adjust the salaries of these employees to the minimum of the corrected salary scales effective January 2008 and to remunerate those staff who were appointed below their respective salary scales from their dates of appointment.”

It said employees who were appointed after the formation of the authority in 2002 below the minimum level of the respective salary scale prevailing at their appointment date would receive retroactive payments and annual vacation allowance accordingly.

The controllers decided to take the action on Friday after Benn blocked the payment of $18 million in back pay. Benn told Stabroek News on Friday that neither he nor Finance Minister Ashni Singh had approved it.

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