The Guyana Association of Air Traffic Control Officers (GAATCO), avails itself of the opportunity to extend to His Excellency, President Jagdeo, our best wishes for a full and speedy recovery from his recent bout of illness and trust that our promised meeting with him will occur at the earliest opportunity, particularly too in the face of the intended dismissal today of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority’s Director of Finance and Administration, Mr. Hardat Singh. This presents a most serious twist in the whole employer/employee relationship within the GCAA and we dare say employers and employees the country over.
The Air Traffic Controllers, Assistants and Technicians have recently been the recipient of a lot of Press, some good, but mostly flak. I am constrained therefore to respond briefly to an editorial published in the Kaieteur News of Friday, 6th February, 2009 and listed as a “Guest Editorial”. There are a number of facts in the editorial, but an overwhelming amount of opinions, coupled with some insinuations which need to be corrected.
We do not, have not or ever will consider our employment as a sinecure (paid job requiring little or no work: a job or position that provides a regular income, but requires little or no work). Air Traffic Controllers in Guyana, for the month of December 2008, handled a total of three thousand, eight hundred and twenty (3,820) aircraft movements, that translates into approximately one hundred and twenty three (123) per day. I sincerely hope that the Guyana Chronicle will publish this letter, so that their viewers who looked at “In depth” (6th February) will understand that we do not only handle a Caribbean Airlines flight here, a Delta there and a LIAT or two in-between. Nay, we provide air traffic control (Aerodrome, Approach and Area), Flight Information and Alerting Service to any and all types, sizes and classes of aircraft operating anywhere over Guyana and its territorial waters. In fact, the airspace goes from ground to infinity. While that amount of air traffic might seem to be small, one cannot properly understand the complexity in such an operation without going beyond the limited scope of this letter. Suffice it to say that our airspace, comprising of Class A, C and G airspace and with the criss-crossing of the local and international routes, the mix of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operation, the limited support staff (one controller in a facility most times), one functional en-route Navigational Aid, the VOR, presents quite a challenge to both pilots and controllers at times. We are not graced with radar, short term conflict alerts (STCA), flight progress strip printers and other important aids to assist in making our work a sinecure.
We do not believe that the employer possesses infinite financial resources but rather know for a fact, that the Government of Guyana (GOG) in 2000 borrowed thirty million United States Dollars to reform the Air Transport sector. This worked out to at that time, approximately four billion, eight hundred million Guyana Dollars ($ 4,800,000,000). This money should have been used to replace all the equipment and to replace all the Navigational Aids, as these were considered to be obsolete (this was in 2000, imagine the status of the equipment now). To date, neither the equipment nor the Nav Aids have been replaced. The Government’s lament about finding $660,000,000 now in 2009 (which incidentally had been given in 2007/8), is therefore not valid.
The Guyana Association of Air Traffic Control Officers (GAATCO) is an apolitical organisation, owing allegiance to no interest group or political entity. We are concerned solely with the welfare of its members as it relates to aviation in particular.
The union dues paid by a regular office assistant in Government employ for example is the same (fortunately or unfortunately) as that paid by the highest paid member of the Guyana Public Service Union, as they receive the same exact level of service and benefits, the GPSU does not discriminate. We have over the years received and continue to receive very good support from the GPSU and have an excellent working relationship with its other members and have every confidence in its leadership.
GAATCO had been advocating for several years to have the outstanding (since at least 1996) issues addressed. In November of 2007, we made efforts to have a salary scale adjustment which had been outstanding since 2002 addressed. This was done in or about February of 2008.
Talks with Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon commenced in November 2008 and broke off abruptly, close to the Christmas period, they did not as was written “not end to their satisfaction”; as a matter of fact, the dialogue with the venerable Doctor went very well indeed.
The “Merry” Band of Controllers had in 1999, when their salaries had been in excess of three times that of the traditional Public Servants, gone on strike in support of their fellow members of the GPSU whose salaries were and still are too small.
In our very fair and unbiased view of the world, we note that the payout to the Joint Services (who justly deserve that and more) is an annual expenditure, while the monies allocated by GOG ($660,000,000 Guyana dollars, which they had in spades, is a one-off payment. The GCAA generated in scheduled international over flights alone, for the month of December, 2008, in excess of ninety two thousand United States dollars (US$92,000). Approximately how much revenue was generated by the Joint Services?
We did not prevent ourselves from being made essential services.
We invite any person or group in this society to a live debate on public television preferably Channel 11, so it will receive the same cover as the “In depth” programme of Friday, 6th February, where contrary to fact, we do not, have not and are not asking to be paid on par with our counterparts in the Caribbean. Trinidad for example pays a “Trainee Controller” one thousand two hundred United States dollars ($1,200.00 US) per month and their equivalent of a SATCO, four thousand ($4,000.00) of the same currency. In Guyana, the reality is approximately one hundred and sixty (US$160.00 and US$1,500.00) respectively. Those ATCOs who were desirous of leaving for greener pastures have left and those who remain are simply asking to be paid the 10% increase that the traditional Public Servants are in receipt of, which we had continued to be in receipt of since becoming an Authority, which attempts are now being made to have cease.
We note however, that when the Sugar workers, represented by GAWU, engage in industrial action, there is none of the brouhaha that similar action by the ATCOs generate. For 2008, Guysuco to quote the Guyana Chronicle of 7th February, “has been bedevilled by industrial action”, which same action we dare say led to the loss of European Markets, caused millions of dollars of sugar cane to spoil in the fields and force us, Guyana, the largest sugar producer in the Caribbean to import sugar for local consumption. Did you hear or see any information that dismissal letters were sent to anyone?
The Laws of Guyana, Natural Justice and the Constitution prevent our being legally dismissed for our overdue strike action.
GAATCO Executive Members
Clifford van Doimen