Government moving to privatise Bahamasair
The Bahamas government says the recent decision by pilots to embark on industrial action will serve as an impetus to privatise the national airline, Bahamasair.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, who has responsibility for Bahamasair, said that the "unprovoked and unwarranted industrial action" taken by the pilots "calls for immediate action to avoid further occurrences".
"I am deeply troubled that pilots took this unlawful and unwarranted industrial action less than six hours after being informed that the minister of labour would take their proposal to Cabinet the following day - nothing was refused, nothing was denied.
"The fact that they took this action anyway, without even filing a trade dispute, clearly indicates it was always their intent to disrupt the airline's ability to operate," Davis said in a statement.
The action by the pilots forced the cash-strapped airline to inform passengers of long delays and even cancellations, and Davis said that, over the past two years, the Perry Christie government has given considerable effort to securing a strategic partner for Bahamasair.
"But this gross act of corporate sabotage brings cause for acceleration of the government's efforts to relieve the Bahamian taxpayer of this heavy financial burden. Moreover, irresponsible and selfish acts of this nature do not provide the shareholder with an incentive to pursue any form of service or route expansion," he said.
"In fact, this behaviour demonstrates the need to fully consider the merits of retrenchment as a more realistic course of action," Davis added.
Millions in Subsidies
He said that over the 41 years of its existence, Bahamasair has received US$541 million, through June 2013, in subsidies which could have been utilised to build new schools or hospitals, improve infrastructure like roads or harbours, additional personnel and equipment to combat crime or even a new correctional facility.
"Quite frankly, all concerned must come to grips with the reality that Bahamasair is no longer an essential service."
Davis said that major foreign carriers provide for the bulk of tourist traffic into the country and over the past eight years, 31 local carriers have been licensed to provide scheduled services throughout the archipelago.
"The domestic landscape has changed dramatically. It is no secret that Bahamasair pilots are paid salaries well in excess of their regional counterparts and utilised flying hours considerably less," Davis said, noting that a senior jet captain with Bahamasair makes up to US$132,000 annually before overtime. By comparison, a Bahamasair senior Dash 8 captain makes up to US$91,000, "which is staggering when considering that his regional equivalent with LIAT airways makes US$36,000 annually after 15 per cent income tax".
Davis said that "additionally, pilots make up only 10 per cent of the entire staff at Bahamasair, but account for 30 per cent of the payroll. There is something wrong with this picture.
"Any right and reasonable-thinking person will agree that under these conditions it is unconscionable that the pilots would take such drastic action at a time when Bahamians with very small incomes are seeking to shop abroad, students are returning home and our main industry tourism is at its peak. The actions of these individuals will be reviewed within the context of the company's policies and procedures."
Davis said he has directed that management provide him with the full costing of the industrial action taken by the pilots.
"In full view of the costs and embarrassment to the company, and the pilots' insensitivity to the Bahamian people, their recent action may have consumed the limited resources necessary to facilitate our last proposal and may necessitate that we withdraw that proposal," he said.
"Moreover, the financial impact of recent events is nowhere as damaging as will be the negative publicity received from local and international travellers, which is immeasurable."
Davis added that "this may take years to recover from, especially when hearing locals say they will never fly Bahamasair again, balanced against the comments of tourists who say they will never return to the Bahamas, all as a result of this terrible experience brought on by the actions of a group of selfish individuals".