Airport in crisis: Government to intervene in labour dispute Flight schedules interrupted by strike

Published: Saturday | November 14, 2009

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU: The Ministry of Labour is expected to arrive in Montego Bay this morning to intervene in the impasse between staff and management of MBJ Airports Limited, operators of the Sangster International Airport.

The ministry's decision came hours after 160 workers, represented by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP), walked off their jobs yesterday.

Up to press time yesterday, the emergency services were still being manned by management personnel, and the airport had been automatically downgraded from category nine to eight, UTASP's general secretary, Saint Patrice Ennis, told The Gleaner.

"We are continuing our protest action tomorrow (today), and I am not sure how the airport will handle large carriers, such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which have some 400 passengers each," said Ennis.

The larger carriers arriving at the airport need to have emergency services in place, but the fire department is one of the sections that have been affected by the industrial action.

Acting general secretary of the TUC, Barry Dawes, said the demonstration was sparked by management's blatant disregard and contentious treatment of matters relating to staff. This is the second time in two years that they have resorted to protest action.

arriving flights affected

The strike, which started about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, affected a number of arriving flights, with Cayman Airways forced to divert to Kingston, while their outgoing passengers had to travel by road to board the aircraft at the Norman Manley International Airport.

At least one Air Jamaica flight was also diverted. JM44 from Philadelphia was diverted to Kingston, and JM35 to Fort Lauderdale was delayed an hour.

The action also affected American Airlines and US Airways flights.

In an interview with The Gleaner's Power 106 News, MBJ's chief commercial officer, Elizabeth Scotton, said, despite the threat of further action, the airport would remain open.

no comment

She declined to speak on the reason for the strike action, saying it was not the usual practice of management to comment on issues of that nature.

MBJ said it had extended an invitation to employees to return to work and to the unions to continue discussions with management.

However, Dawes said the union had been in dialogue with management for several months regarding fundamental concerns about aspects of a job evaluation, "but we were denied a meeting with the management and the consultant, Focal Point".

He said the job evaluation was agreed on two years ago and was to be aligned with the workers' pay. This, he said, was yet to be done.

He said that a meeting was set with Focal Point for last Friday but was cancelled by MBJ on Thursday evening at six o'clock.

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. The Gleaner reserves the right not to publish comments that may be deemed libelous, derogatory or indecent. To respond to The Gleaner please use the feedback form.