Tuesday, January 21, 2020
By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Peter Turnquest says the disengagement of workers at the Grand Bahama International Airport is a concern, and that addressing the current situation at the airport is a priority for the government.
Over a dozen employees, mostly security officers, were made redundant last Friday, and it is expected that as many as 100 persons could be affected as more redundancies are carried out in stages.
When contacted on Monday, Mr Turnquest said that the matter is concerning especially as it relates to Grand Bahama’s economy.
“We have to be concerned; it does not precipitate a feeling that the economy has stalled,” he said. “The government is looking at the airport now as a priority to get traction on it.
“We realise that some persons have been disengaged and that will have an effect on the economy, and we have to see how many. We will look at an alternative strategy to see how we deal with it and put them somewhere,” he said.
Dave Barr, president of the Grand Bahama Port Authority Workers Union, said a total of 13 people were made redundant.
“Of the 13, nine are security officers, and they were all paid the maximum compensation according to the redundancy clause,” he said.
The union official noted that more redundancies are expected. “The plan is to do it in stages either until the airport is sold and taken over by another company,” he explained.
Mr Barr said activity at the airport is very low.
The airport, which is jointly owned and managed by Hutchison Port Holdings with Grand Bahama Port Authority Group Ltd, sustained severe flood damage in early September during Hurricane Dorian. It reopened to international/commercial flights in the latter part of 2019.
Air arrivals to Grand Bahama are very low and the island’s tourism sector has been significantly affected.
Mr Barr said: “Nothing is happening at the airport and so jobs are being affected because of it, and the airport deems it (the redundancies) necessary because not much activity is going on.”
“We are concerned about it because almost 100 persons will be out of a job or affected. There is nothing you could do other than hope people are paid off correctly,” he said.
Mr Barr hopes that workers will be re-engaged once the airport is back up and fully operational.
Kirkland Russell, area vice president of Trade Union Congress, which the GB Port Authority Workers Union falls under, believes the downsizing taking place at the airport could be a sign of the owners’ intentions about restoring the airport.
While redundancies, layoffs or reducing workdays are always a concern to the union, he said the members are confident that GBPAWU will do its due diligence on behalf of the workers to ensure their rights are protected.
“The union remains very concerned not only about the downsizing of the airport but that it demonstrates that there is no real commitment by owners of the airport to restore the airport to its state of normalcy before Dorian,” he said.
“There seems to be no sign of urgency and that is worrisome to the union not only as it affects airport workers, but also not having a proper airport at this time will affect hotels and tourism which are vital for the island’s other businesses that rely on the airport.”
Mr Russell said the airport is also important for attracting investors and new businesses to the island.
“We need the owners to be forthcoming to see what are their intentions for the airport and this island,” he said.
In late 2019, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said the Minnis administration was considering purchasing the airport.