|Firefighters end strike, Providenciales flights resumed||| Print ||
|Written by Richard Greenfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Monday, 12 March 2012 10:27|
Updated March 13: Turks and Caicos Islands government officials met over the weekend with striking airport firefighters, ending a partial walk out that shut down commercial flights to Providenciales for several hours March 10.
Firefighters from smaller airports on the other islands replaced those striking on Providenciales to get commercial flights back in the air, but those smaller airports had to be closed to air traffic over the weekend.
Many inbound and outbound flights were canceled or postponed March 10, stranding hundreds of tourists for an extra night. That caused bedlam at many resorts that didn’t have enough rooms to accommodate them.
The firefighters are government civil servants and not employees of the Turks and Caicos Islands Airports Authority (TCIAA), an independent statutory body which runs the airport. Government wanted to make them employees of the TCIAA, and firefighters agreed.
The two sides had discussed the transfer for several weeks before letters were sent to fire fighters on March 9 officially informing them and stating that all pay and benefits would remain intact. Government also agreed to give the TCIAA $500,000 for improvements at the family islands airports, such as South Caicos and Salt Cay.
However, firefighters also wanted severance pay from their government jobs to make the switch, a demand which government CEO Patrick Boyle said would cost $3 million. The Civil Service Association, which is representing the firefighters, said the severance pay for 84 firefighters would not cost nearly that much.
Regardless, Boyle canceled the move, which took the matter of severance pay off the table. On March 11 he met with firefighters, CSA President Dr. Rufus Ewing and others.
The CSA said fire fighters ended their strike at 5:30 p.m. March 11 with the government agreeing to address issues of safety, equipment, fire department management, training and salaries, which are among the lowest in government.
Government recently offered voluntary severance payments to hundreds of workers to leave their jobs in an effort to reduce government spending, but government reserved the right to exempt people necessary to maintain services. Boyle said fire fighters were exempted because they were already short 20 staff members and couldn’t function properly if more left their jobs. They are asking to have a chance to leave if they want to, the CSA says.
On March 12, Boyle issued the following statement:
“We have agreed the following package with firefighters: that proposals to transfer fire fighters to the TCI Airports Authority are withdrawn; we are committed to investing in essential safety equipment; we will review pay as part of the wider civil service review; further assess training needs and develop a plan to maintain training to the highest international standards; I will visit staff in both Provo and Grand Turk airport fire stations this week.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the public servants who worked with us to minimise the impact of the action reopening Providenciales Airport again on Saturday afternoon and keeping it open throughout on Sunday. I am sorry that the other airports had to close as we could not muster sufficient numbers of fire fighters at them to allow them to meet minimum safety requirements.
“I am also sorry for the inconvenience caused to thousands of tourists and to local tourism-based businesses. This is a dispute from which no winners emerged.”
This isn’t the first time airport firefighters have shut down flights. On March 24, 2011, some joined a “sick out” by hundreds of government workers protesting changes to the civil service.
Consultative Forum Chairwoman Lillian Misick said the problem stemmed from poor communication on the part of government.
“Frankly, I cannot blame the firefighters for having so little trust in this administration duly heeding their concerns when this administration has demonstrated time and again its unwillingness to heed the informed concerns of members of this body,” Misick said in her opening remarks to the forum on March 13. “But I fear for the future governance of our county if civil servants become convinced that going on strike is the only way to negotiate effectively with the government.”
His Excellency the Gov. Ric Todd said the strike was completely unnecessary and amounted to “political grandstanding.”
American Airlines, the largest international carrier to the TCI, delayed its March 10 flight from New York until the morning of March 11. The March 10 outbound flight to New York was deferred until the morning of March 11.
One March 10 flight from Miami was diverted to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and one from Dallas/Ft. Worth was diverted to Miami. Both flights continued to Providenciales on the morning of March 11. American also operated one extra flight on March 11 from Providenciales to Miami.
JetBlue had to delay its flight from Providenciales to Boston on March 10 until 9:40 p.m. Its March 10 flight from New York was first diverted to Santiago, Dominican Republic, then to Orlando en route to New York. Upon landing in Orlando, JetBlue learned that the Providenciales airport was open, so the flight finally made it to the TCI at 11 p.m.
United Airlines canceled one flight from Newark, New Jersey, on March 10.
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