|Firefighters return, Provo airport reopens after “sick out”||| Print ||
|Written by Richard Greenfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Thursday, 24 March 2011 15:01|
Providenciales International Airport reopened to accept most non-commercial flights around 2 p.m. and was expected to resume full operations tomorrow after a public service “sick out” halted all flights earlier today (March 24), airport officials told the fp.
Angry with the Turks and Caicos Islands interim government’s proposed pay and pension policies and new taxes, Civil Service Association employees staged a one-day “sick out” where airport firefighters and many other public servants didn’t show up for work. Airports are required to have fire service to handle flights.
Some firefighters returned to work this afternoon, allowing non-commercial air traffic to resume, said Floyd Ingham, the executive airport’s manager. Regular operations were expected to resume Friday.
The CSA issued a press release at 6:09 p.m. saying, "It is unknown whether civil servants were genuinely sick or whether they were protesting in response to he impending changes in policy as it relates to taxation, pension and payroll."
The government condemned the sick out.
“The CSA’s decision to include this essential government service in their action is seriously misguided,” a government statement said. “In addition to the impact on the airport’s ability to deal with an emergency, the airport closure will have a financial cost to many TCI businesses. It also has the potential to damage the TCI’s reputation as a top tourist destination.”
The government said it was considering a recent list of demands concerning proposed changes to public servants’ pay and pensions, and expected to make a “substantive reply” by the end of this week.
“It is therefore disappointing that the CSA should have taken this premature step and encouraged such a damaging action by some public servants, rather than continue to work with the government to a mutually acceptable outcome,” the government said.
“The CSA’s actions may also cause difficulties for the very civil servants they represent. As a consequence of the participation in the ‘sick out’ by some members of the Ministry of Finance, the financial system used for wage and salary payments was not operational today. This means that the payment of wages/salaries may be delayed.”
The CSA disputed that claim, saying: "The CSA berates the allegation made by the administration as to the involvement of the CSA in the ill health of civil servants today and also the allegations made about the threat to 'public safety.' Furthermore, the CSA knows for a fact that the government payroll system was functional today and that the payrolls were prepared from yesterday. Therefore the statement made about the reason to delay payment of wages and salary is false and can only be viewed as an action of victimization to discipline civil servants for being sick."
The sick out caused all commercial airlines to cancel flights today, affecting thousands of travelers.
Deborah Aharons, vice president of Business Development for local airline Air Turks & Caicos and the private Provo Air Center, said some private flights resumed this afternoon. “Provo Air Center is offering to coordinate charter flights ranging from turboprop to charter 737 service,” she said.
“The world’s largest fractional ownership jet company, NetJets, which is also our biggest customer, has expressed their frustration by e-mail this morning,” Aharons said. “We are getting a stream of concerned e-mails from customers regarding this action, asking if they should cancel plans.”
The sick out apparently affected most government offices and services, including government schools, phone service and e-mail. However, essential services of police, volunteer fire and Emergency Medical Services reported that they were operating normally.
The financial impact on government, the tourism industry and businesses comes at a time when they are beginning to get back on their feet during the height of a booming tourism season.
The U.K. suspended elected government in August 2009 and assumed direct rule under His Excellency the Gov. Gordon Wetherell after a Commission of Inquiry alleged government corruption and the country was nearly bankrupt.
The number of public servants had doubled in size from fewer than 1,500 in 2002 to nearly 3,000 in 2008, costing the government more than 60 percent of all expenditures.
In April 2010, all public servants got a 10-percent salary cut when the government reduced spending as revenue plummeted with the global economic downturn.
In February the governor announced that the government would be cutting the cost of the public service by 25 percent by 2013-14. Then government CEO Mark Capes — who serves as head of the public service — announced reforms to public servants’ pay and pensions.
Overpayments of pensions, gratuities and salaries have cost the government millions in recent years. Some civil servants were receiving double pensions, and some retired employees had been re-employed, drawing both a pension and a salary.
Payouts for accumulated leave beyond the 30-day per year cap resulted in overpayments of $3.6 million from 2006 to 2010, with cases of individuals receiving $200,000 upon retirement for accumulated leave.
The CSA opposes nearly all of the government’s reforms. When the governor announced this month that the U.K. had given $10 million to pay for the last year of the ongoing investigation into alleged government corruption, the CSA demanded that the government use the money to revoke the 10 percent salary cut.
In an undated e-mail March 11, the CSA gave the government seven days to “issue a favorable reply” to its demands.
Capes told Radio Turks and Caicos that he responded on the CSA's deadline, saying that he was carefully considering their demands and preparing a response that he hoped to take up with the group's members. He said Ewing responded that he looked forward to meeting to discuss the issues.
Capes said the government was not considering any repercussions against civil servants. "The only repercussion from this is going to be damage to the economy, damage to the people's jobs, in the private sector, in the economy more broadly. Damage to our tourism product, damage to our reputation."
"It couldn't really have come at a more difficult time," Capes said.
The CSA requested and received an audience this week with Director of Overseas Territories Colin Roberts and Director General in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Robert Hannigan.
“The president (Ewing) and vice president (Jamal Robinson) of the Civil Service Association came to a buffet dinner last night (March 22) at Waterloo where they were able to speak at length with Colin Roberts and Mr. Hannigan,” Capes said.
The sick out comes two weeks after a small group of protesters from the group Turks and Caicos Islanders United for Justice and Equality (TCIUJE) blocked the main airport road for four days, demanding the interim government set a date for elections and return to local rule. While the four-day protest had little affect on airport traffic, the sick out effectively shut down Providenciales to all flights.
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