Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Air traffic controllers’ impasse drags on

Published:Tuesday | February 1, 2022 | 12:12 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer


Wage talks between the island's air traffic controllers and the Government are expected to continue today after a meeting between the group and the Ministry of Labour in Kingston ended in a stalemate on Monday.

The controllers, who have been calling in sick for weeks and whose action on Sunday caused the closure of the country's airspace and the cancellation of flights by two major carriers to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, say they are willing to issue a notice of industrial action if the impasse prolongs.

They are disputing a number of issues regarding wage claims and have described the Ministry of Finance as “high-handed”.

“We find that when we do submit our claims, we have to wait a very long time before the ministry responds, and only responds when it concludes negotiations with larger unions, such as the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, etc,” Kurt Solomon, president of the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association, told The Gleaner on Monday.

He insists, however, that items in the controllers' claims are “unique and very specific”.

“There are some legal requirements. For example, the wearing of corrective lenses. It's not as if you can leave the glasses at home and legally work,” he said of the international benchmarks.

Solomon said ignoring those types of considerations can be at the peril of the controllers' ability to carry out their functions.

The controllers cast blame for the deadlock on the perceived intransigence of the Ministry of Finance, not their employers, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCA).

Attempts to contact Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke late Monday were unsuccessful.

The Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association president lamented the perception that the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act blunted union power by prohibiting industrial action, except under certain conditions.

But he warned that the controllers would not be slighted.

“There is somewhat of a belief that because we are essential, we can be ignored,” he said.

With just about 120 members unionised, Solomon said that their small numbers have outsize reach.

The controllers are expected to meet with the JCAA this morning at 10 o'clock.

In the meantime, Solomon said that a few traffic controllers have reported having flulike symptoms and some have contracted COVID-19.