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After five years in office, a government and opposition are completed their constitutional mandates. On May 7, the Bahamian people will decide who they want to lead them for up to another five years.
Bahamians are excited. More than 172,000 people have registered to vote -- more than 20,000 than voted in 2007. The election is the main focus of the political parties; it is the main focus of the people; it is the main focus of the country.
The Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) is conducting industrial action. As previously reported, an agreement has yet to be reached between the union and the government on several outstanding issues, including health insurance, compensation and what the union has claimed is an illegal shift system.
The union must be sensible. In-depth industrial negotiations take time. It takes a government able to focus on the issues at hand to strike a deal. Clearly and obviously this will not, and cannot, happen at this time.
In a few weeks, a new government will be elected and it will have the time to sit with the customs and immigration union and come to an agreement. Why can't the union wait?
Union Vice President Sloane Smith said on Tuesday that the country's security could be at risk as "non-qualified" Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officers are manning some entry points in place of officers at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA). A few defence force officers have been placed at LPIA as union members have been conducting industrial action since last Thursday.
In response to the union's claims Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette told The Nassau Guardian that the immigration process at LPIA has gone without incident and the defence force officers stationed at the airport have been given sufficient training.
Symonette also said the immigration process went much smoother than expected over the Easter holiday weekend with the defence force officers in place. It is good that the government has a contingency plan in place for such action. But such action is not useful at this time.
Smith said the union would continue demonstrating until its issues are resolved. He added that members of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) would soon meet to discuss the union's next move. The customs and immigration union falls under the TUC umbrella.
We hope the union sees the futility of its actions and waits for its new negotiating partner to be elected. The union only recently formed after its members broke away from the Bahamas Public Services Union. All it is doing is demonstrating its immaturity by angering the traveling public and inconveniencing our visitors by protesting at a time when the government is so preoccupied that it is not really listening.
Operations at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) and other ports of entry nationwide could come to a crawl over the holidays if Customs and Immigration officers make good on their threat not to work on Christmas and Boxing Day.The directive to withdraw labor came from the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU), the bargaining agent for the workers.
Union Executive Vice President Sloane Smith said Customs and Immigration officers are upset that employees who are scheduled to work on Christmas Day will not receive holiday pay.
"We're going to suggest to you that you are not to be forced to work on Sunday or Monday, against the law," Smith told a crowd of about 70 workers who gathered outside the Ministry of Labour yesterday.
"Legally we[are]advised that the government owes us another day or they need to pay the staff who's going to show up on Sunday. We have instructed our members[if]they are not paying you the way they should be paying you and they owe you a day, do not be out there on Sunday [or] Monday.
"That's dock, airport, harbor, Family Islands. . .and we will do the same thing throughout the length and breadth of this country,"he said.
Smith said workers who participated in the demonstration -- which began shortly before 9 a.m. -- were not withdrawing labor yesterday but were simply"going to work late".
When asked how operations at the airport were without the staff scheduled to work at LPIA yesterday morning, Smith said:"Everything is slowed down now. If the staff is here,[there is]nothing going on down there."
WhenThe Nassau Guardianvisited LPIA shortly after noon yesterday, arriving passengers said operations were running smoothly and they had no delays passing through Customs or Immigration sections.
The union is also agitating for Labour Minister Dion Foulkes to sign a strike vote certificate weeks after a strike vote was taken and negotiate their expired industrial agreement.
Until this is done, the BCIAWU will continue to protest all next week.
"We do not need the strike certificate to walk out if we have to. The law is clear. In pursuance of a trade dispute, walking out on the government employer is not seen as a strike because it's in continuance of a trade dispute.
"All we want them to do is honor what they are supposed to do, sign the document, give it to us [and] we'll sit down and talk," Smith said yesterday.
Attempts to reach Labour Minister Dion Foulkes were unsuccessful yesterday.
On Thursday, he told The Nassau Guardian that he was waiting on a report from a recent meeting that involved union executives and officials from the Department of Labour before he will determine whether to sign the document.
The officers have concerns relating to salaries and the shift system that is in place.
BCIAWU members were upset with the shift system implemented by the government in January 2010.
More than $12 million so far has been injected into the local economy as a result of Lynden Pindling International Airport's (LPIA) third and final phase, Guardian Business can confirm. In addition, since construction began on LPIA's $409 million expansion...
For the second time this month officials of the union that represents customs and immigration officers instructed their members to discontinue working yesterday, as a result of escalated concerns they claim management has failed to address.
On November 1, the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) instructed officers to demonstrate after members repeatedly complained about mold at the Customs Warehouse on John F. Kennedy Drive.
Although officers are no longer stationed in that building, union officials claimed yesterday that several other locations where customs officers are stationed have similar problems, including Arawak Cay.
"The dust levels are so bad out there we have had officers hospitalized with respiratory infections," said BCIAWU Trustee Alma Whyms.
"You have mold in some of the air and port stations and they say you have medical insurance. The insurance picks up 80 percent, but you pick up the other 20 percent and you're talking about thousands of dollars."
Trainee customs officer Tracy Pritchard added, "The dust at Arawak Cay is crazy and I was put in a position where I was hospitalized because I developed an infection in my lungs because of the dust. Luckily for me, I put in a letter and I was transferred, but many officers are out there dealing with those conditions every day and getting unhealthier every day."
Comptroller of Customs Glenn Gomez told The Nassau Guardian yesterday that he was aware of some of the claims made regarding the Arawak Cay station, but was awaiting an official report from engineers sent into the field last week to inspect for mold.
"I was also told by an officer who has worked out there that...occasionally they would see some stuff on the walls, but they had people in there and they found that it was dust coming inside when they opened the door," Gomez said.
"It sits there for a while and it just discolors that particular portion of paint. If there is mold, we will find out, but I don't know that there is."
That report is expected to be submitted sometime next week, Gomez said.
He added, "We have asked the operators out there to do different things. They sprayed water in a solution to keep the coral sand down, but they complain that the area gets mucky and say their cars are getting dirty.
"There is a chemical somewhat like asphalt but not quite that they sprayed on the coral sand so it gives it a topping, but then they complained that these little black balls which formed are kicking up on their cars. What can we do?"
Customs officer Coderro Edgecombe expressed another concern, claiming that customs officers stationed at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) have to walk unsupervised when their shifts end at midnight because the airport bus system stops running before that time.
"I don't think anyone wants their daughter to have to walk almost a mile from the LPIA terminal all the way to John F. Kennedy (Drive near LPIA), where they have the parking for us," Edgecombe said.
He was speaking to approximately 100 customs officers demonstrating in front of the Customs Department headquarters on Thompson Boulevard.
"You have to walk in the dark at midnight to get to your vehicle and there is no security," Edgecombe said.
Gomez explained that Nassau Airport Development Company's (NAD) bus service transports staff and civilians from the terminal to the parking lot and vice versa.
However, he pointed out that officers complained about traveling on NAD's bus service with individuals they have just searched and required to pay duty.
He added that officers have complained that NAD's bus service reportedly stops running before midnight, but advised officers to use the department's bus service which is made available at that time.
"They were instructed to find out which officers wanted to catch a ride to their vehicles," he said.
"Our bus would transfer them to where their vehicle is parked, but if you say 'no, I am not waiting for the bus because the bus waits until everyone is ready, and I want to go because I have to be somewhere' and you choose to jump in the airport's bus, there is nothing I can do."
He added, "We have a vehicle that is there to transport them and all they have to do is wait until the other people have been transported to their vehicles before being taken uptown. So that should not be an issue because that has been addressed."
Airport workers are poised to take industrial action against what they call "government runaround" and false promises from the Prime Minister's Office.
Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU) President Roscoe Perpall chaired an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss how the union plans to get the government's attention. He said action is necessary for BATCU to be taken seriously.
"We have to plan action," Perpall told Guardian Business. "They (the government) have been given sufficient time. We are just as determined as we were in the beginning and more than likely we must have a reaction to them ignoring our concerns."
The reaction in question could mean another strike by air traffic controllers - a move that will have a considerable impact on operations at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
Just before the new year, industrial action by the airport workers snarled busy holiday season traffic and cost airlines tens of thousands in delays, burnt fuel and overtime pay.
The BATCU has been seeking an industrial agreement for years, but bureaucracy, disagreements and other delays have hampered the process, Perpall said.
The union has remained resolute in a variety of issues, including holiday time, overdue and allowances amounting to more than $500,000 and persistent maintenance problems with radar equipment.
In fact, aviation exports continue to warn LPIA and the government that severely outdated radar and communications equipment presents a danger to the country's tourism industry.
In January, Guardian Business reported that the radar system, installed in 1985, has "outlived its life expectancy", according to Perpall.
He said staff have implemented "band-aid solutions" to keep the system up and running, but failure to address the situation has created a "condition of uncertainty" at the airport.
Last week, Perpall told Guardian Business the union was told by Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the minister of tourism, that Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham must sign off on any industrial agreement. The union said it has given up trying to get in touch with Ingraham to resolve the matter.
"We have tried to contact the PM's office repeatedly. Right now nothing is happening for us. We feel like we're getting the runaround and we can't wait any longer," said Perpall.
Adding that the union "didn't want to go down this path", the union president said he has been in contact with other organizations with similar industrial grievances, such as customs and workers from Sandals resort.
He hinted that these groups may plan a mass protest so their voices no longer fall on deaf ears.
"It would involve separate action, but we would all move in a direction to show our displeasure," Perpall explained.
By ALISON LOWE
Highlighting the significance of the Government's decision to "mandate" Bahamian involvement in the Baha Mar construction project, the Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president yesterday said the Lynden Pindling International Airport's (LPIA) main contractor had not fully followed through on commitments to work with local companies.
Stephen Wrinkle alleged that Ledcor, the Canadian general contractor responsible for the LPIA re-development project, "promised" that it was committed to Bahamian involvement in the project but this did not materialise
"If [foreign developers] are not mandat ...
Nassau airport is seeking to capitalize on its strategic pre-clearance system and will commence a new direct flight this month to create "a foothold that is affluent".
Vernice Walkine, the vice president of marketing and communications at Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD), told Guardian Business that jetBlue will begin daily flights on Nov. 15 from the domestic terminal in Westchester County to Nassau.
Located in New York State, this particular area of the U.S. eastern seaboard is known for having a high concentration of high-net-worth individuals.
In other words, NAD is "really excited" about the caliber of tourist it can attract.
"It's a part of the East Coast that is really untapped," she added. "It's going to give us a chance to establish a foothold that is affluent. They [jetBlue] are now looking at a number of other flights because of this - it turns a domestic airport into an international service."
Under normal circumstances, flights leaving Westchester County Airport could only service domestic locations.
However, because passengers boarding in The Bahamas can be "pre-cleared" for U.S. customs, jetBlue can offer a novelty for these tourists.
In fact, Nassau represents the only international flight currently registered at the U.S. airport.
As a result, Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) expects the new flight to take off in popularity - and NAD is becoming increasingly aware of how they can exploit their market advantage in the U.S.
"It allows us to serve areas we normally wouldn't, she said.
According to recent data in the U.S. from the Housing and Urban Development, the average individual income in the county was $75,427. It was ranked as the second wealthiest county in New York State and the seventh richest in the country.
The direct flight from Westchester County isn't the only new service travellers can expect at LPIA.
On Dec 12, Copa Airlines plans to increase its flights to Panama from four to six, representing a continued surge for the carrier that is "unheard of" in the industry, according to Stewart Steeves, the CEO and President of NAD.
"All of this has happened in the last six months," he told Guardian Business.
"They clearly have a commitment to the destination. From an airport perspective, I have never seen a route grow so quickly."
Finally, beginning tomorrow, Sun Wing will commerce service twice a week from Toronto to Nassau for the next 20 weeks in an effort to take advantage of the busy winter season.
A SECOND Bahamian has joined the Nassau Airport Development Company's (NAD) top executive ranks.
Kevin McDonald has been appointed to the position of vice-president of maintenance and engineering, with effect from January 1, 2012. He will also become an employee of Vancouver Airport Services (YVRAS), the Canadian-owned operator of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), just like other NAD executives.
Mr McDonald joined NAD in September 2008 as director of maintenance and engineering, managing a team responsible for electrical, mechanical and structural engineering and maintenance at LPIA.
Prior to joining NAD, he worked for Atlantis as assistant chief engineer for the Beach and Cor ...
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas Hotel Association's (BHA) president yesterday echoed the Government's position on proposed Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) fee increases, saying he did not believe this would have "too great an impact" on Bahamian resort occupancy levels.
Robert Sands, who is also Baha Mar's senior vice-president of external and government affairs, acknowledged that while the fee increases "go against" the sector's Companion Fly Free programme and initiatives to reduce air transport costs, there were no short-term alternatives to financing the airport's $409.5 million redevelopment.
Mr Sands told Tribune B ...