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No room for blackmail - Davies issues strong warning to air traffic controllers

Published:Tuesday | September 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Dr Omar Davies
Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

Warning air traffic controllers that they will not be allowed to "blackmail" the Government, Transport, Works and Housing Minister Dr Omar Davies said in Parliament yesterday that the Essential Services Act is being abused.

"This administration is not going to tolerate the abuse of the Essential Services Act," Davies said as he piloted a bill through the House of Representatives for an increase in the number of members on the board of the Civil Aviation Authority.

The minister's comments followed the taking of industrial action on two occasions by air traffic controllers.

He said that while there are persons who are required to abide by the Essential Services Act, some are "finding ways to put our air traffic services in jeopardy, and this will not be tolerated".

Kurt Solomon, president of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, told The Gleaner yesterday that Davies' use of the term 'blackmail' was regrettable.

"That language is extremely strong and unfortunate because should the air traffic controllers listen to their minister say those things about them, knowing that we are the ones who are holding things at the moment, all it is going to do is discourage the staff," Solomon said.




One of the issues raised by the air traffic controllers is that they should be paid consistent with what is being paid in other jurisdictions.

However, Davies said yesterday that there are many professionals in Jamaica who could make a similar claim.

"One has to recognise that within a society, there are certain rules which obtain, and if you pull out a particular group to be treated in a different way ... . We are open to negotiations, but we are not open to blackmail," Davies said.

"We are not looking for a fight; we are seeking solutions," he added.

The air traffic controllers have twice taken industrial action, leading to a shutdown of the country's airspace.

Davies said he has, among other things, "carefully checked in terms of when equipment was ordered and whether we have been meeting the international standards, and perhaps I should present a full report to Parliament in that regard".

Solomon said yesterday that an analysis of the state of the equipment would show that "there is grave concern about how we can progress".

"What is happening now is that the authority is treating with the equipment issues when the system fails. When it breaks down, we try and fix it," he added.




Solomon said that for the next two years, the air traffic controllers will not get new equipment to work with and will have to double their efforts to ensure the safety of the flying public.

North Central Clarendon Member of Parliament Pearnel Charles said in Parliament that Davies' statement amounts to "threatening aviation workers" and said "this is not the right way".

"Governments have not been providing what the civil aviation workers need to do their jobs," Charles said.

"If they don't have what is needed to do their jobs and they withdraw, don't come here to threaten them. You are to work with them to make sure that they get what is needed to do their jobs," he added.

Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mike Henry said that among the problems is that there is a constant breakdown of the radar being employed.

But Davies challenged the assertion and said there was "an attempt being made to exploit, for obvious reasons, the matter of the industrial relations".

"I am not here to threaten any worker. All I am here to assert, with your support, is that persons must observe the rules of the Essential Services Act," Davies said.

"My checks with the relevant authorities, both locally and externally, confirm that we continue to meet the international regulatory requirement."

The minister said there is no truth to claims that the radar equipment being installed at the Norman Manley International Airport is not in compliance with international standards.

"There have been irresponsible statements, which have been bandied about. I have chosen deliberately not to dignify them with a response because that would simply give legs ..." Davies said.