Caribbean Airlines flight cancelled over controllers strike

A Caribbean Airlines flight due last night was cancelled yesterday after the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) was forced to close the control tower as a result of the ongoing strike by air traffic controllers.

Director of GCAA, Zulfikar Mohammed, yesterday told Stabroek News that the tower had to be closed from 6 pm yesterday afternoon to 5 this morning. He said since the air traffic controllers went on strike on Friday night, senior staff members were manning the tower but the tower had to be closed for some hours. Stabroek News understands that this was done because there are not enough persons to be rotated on the different shifts and those who are working need time to rest.

Mohammed said the Caribbean Airlines flight was expected to arrive at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri at around 10 last night, the only flight for the night. The flight is now expected to arrive in Guyana sometime early this morning. The GCAA director said that they had given the airlines notice of the current strike action.

Workers yesterday said that they would continue the strike indefinitely but said they were to meet with the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), which had given the GCAA advance notice on Friday last that the workers would strike.

Sources yesterday said that at the tower only one person is working a shift and this could be dangerous as if something was to happen to that person there is no one to report it or offer any assistance.

Also, the usual information available 75 miles from the airport to aircraft flying into the interior is not available and as such should a local aircraft run into some difficulty there would be no record of it. There are also no air traffic controllers working at the Ogle Airport so flights flying out from it are basically left on their own.

The issues pending with the air traffic controllers at the CJIA and Ogle airports, all of which seem to be out of the hands of the GCAA, include retroactive overtime payment on salary scale adjustments, a 10 per cent increase in wages and salaries for last year and salary and leave advances. Additionally, workers want management to address the issue of substantive appointments as well as maximum work hours per month for Air Navigation Services staff. The employees are also asking for better training for staff and duty-free concessions for senior staff members.

Last Friday sources had told this newspaper that they had exhausted all avenues and there seems to be no other alternative than to strike in an effort to pressure the authorities on some of the issues.

It was noted that Minister of Works and Transport, Robeson Benn, who had stopped a payment that the GCAA was prepared to give employees, has said that there is no money to pay them yet the employees are seeing “all kinds of unnecessary expenditures.”

These include landscaping around the CJIA tower, painting and even covering of floors. “These are being done especially at a time when you are telling employees that you have no money to give them,” the sources noted.

The sources had said what had aggravated the situation even more is Minister Benn’s hands-on approach towards the issue as he is directing management. Management, the sources said, should report to a board but there is no board and as such Benn is the one who is in control.

Last year when there was no response to a letter written to the minister the employees wrote President Bharrat Jagdeo who instructed Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon to meet with them. The sources said they had several meetings with Dr Luncheon but late last year they stopped hearing from him and a scheduled meeting did not materialize.

And even as they were fighting for their money the sources said they were very hurt when they noticed that government had paid out over $300M in a bonus to the army when they are being told they cannot get the money due to them.

Yesterday, workers said that they want agreements in writing as it relates to the different issues before going back to work. However, the 10% retroactive payment would have to be made first and the agreements would have to state that the other issues would be settled in a timely manner.

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