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Pay up now!

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE BUSTAMANTE Industrial Trade Union (BITU) has expressed grave concern that Air Jamaica has not paid over statutory payments deducted from workers' salaries.

The union, in a memo to employees last week, described as "nonchalant and unacceptable" responses from the airline regarding the progress that has been made in paying over statutory deductions to the relevant government departments.

"Air Jamaica was owing NIS (National Insurance Scheme) and NHT (National Housing Trust) millions of dollars. They have paid, up to 2007, under a special arrangement. We have asked that upon termination of the workers, all payments be made," Kavan Gayle, the BITU president, said.

"You don't want to leave and, if you are suppose to go to NHT, you are told that your payments that have been deducted were not brought in line," Gayle added.

However, Bruce Nobles, president and CEO of Air Jamaica, told The Gleaner Monday he would not comment on the issue.

"We are a government-owned entity and we are not going to make our financial situation public," Nobles said.

Under Jamaican laws, companies must deduct a portion of workers' salary and pay it towards the NHT and NIS. Workers whose deductions have not been paid over are not entitled to the benefits under these social-security programmes.

No redundancy payment

Meanwhile, the statutory payment dispute is just one of a list of concerns the BITU outlined in its memo last week. Gayle has warned of possible chaos on April 13, the day when Caribbean Airlines replaces Air Jamaica as the national carrier.

"Imagine a worker who is terminated from Air Jamaica and leaves on April 12 and is told to turn up on the 13th without his redundancy payment and not knowing the terms of his employment. There is going to be a great degree of uncertainty," Gayle said.

The BITU, in its memo to delegates last week, suggested that based on discussions it had with Air Jamaica's management, it seemed unlikely that the company would meet its targeted April 12 date for closing the airline.

Air Jamaica had said its operations would end on that day, paving the way for a takeover by the Trinidad and Tobago-owned Caribbean Airlines.

However, Nobles said the organisation is working apace to meet its target date.

"We have no other comment, save for that which we have said before. When we have something to talk about, we will talk about it," Nobles told The Gleaner.

Admin woes

That is little comfort, the union said, insisting that closing the airline in the middle of the month would present logistic and admi-nistrative challenges.

At the same time, Gayle has accused Caribbean Airlines of "negotiating in the dark" with current Air Jamaica workers. He said that although workers were being interviewed, the available positions and terms of employment had not been divulged.

"This seamless transition that they want cannot hold true for the customers and passengers who use the aircraft only, but must be seamless for the employers who have to operate," Gayle said.