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Union president claims issues with airline ‘long-standing’

Comments come after pilots stage ‘sick-out’
Guardian Business Reporter

Published: Oct 16, 2013

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Contract negotiations between the Bahamian Pilots Alliance (BPA) and SkyBahamas Airlines have been a longstanding issue for months, the union’s president Mark Johnson confirmed.

Following a meeting with the airline’s executives and the BPA late yesterday afternoon, Johnson said that securing medical insurance and seniority lists are just some of the items his union is looking to secure for those pilots in the new proposed contract.  His comments come on the heels of an alleged “sick-out” by the majority of the domestic airlines’ pilots over the weekend.

According to Johnson, the union sent out a contract proposal to the airline back in June and waited for SkyBahamas President and CEO Captain Randy Butler to respond with a meeting time and date to begin contract negotiations.

Since then, Johnson said three additional letters were sent because the union received no response from Butler.  But he maintains that actions taken by SkyBahamas’ pilots over the weekend were “not industrial”, despite claims made by Butler.

“In the third letter, I told him that if I didn’t hear from them within three days, the union would be taking action,” according to Johnson

“What I meant was that we would be filing a trade dispute to have a penalty imposed on the company, a $5,000 fine for failing to meet and negotiate with the union.

“That’s what a contract negotiation is all about, sitting down to the table so we can talk about things that the company would be able to afford and if the company is not able to afford something in the contract, then we would have to accept that.”

On Sunday morning, the majority of the airline’s pilots called in sick, demanding a new contract.

Butler estimated $126,000 in costs from the alleged “sick-out”.

However, Johnson told Guardian Business that he has spoken to those pilots and that they were “legitimately sick” with doctor’s notes to substantiate that fact.

“I think it was Captain Butler’s conscience that was messing with him as we have been trying to get him to come to the table for some time as it relates to contract negotiations,” he said.

Butler claimed he was left surprised by the pilots’ action.

The union, which represents pilots working at private-owned airlines and charter companies, has been in existence since August 2011.

Tuesday afternoon’s meeting marks the second since Sunday as representatives from the National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB) and the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU) met with SkyBahamas executives Monday night.

Butler also confirmed to Guardian Business that he met with the union on Tuesday.  Keith Archer, a consultant for the airline, is reportedly responsible for contract negotiations.

Up until Monday afternoon, the airline paid out approximately $126,000 to ensure its customers could find seats on other airlines.

Butler noted that in some cases the airline was covering “three times what we had been paid by the customer” to ensure that passengers were able to reach their destinations notwithstanding the action by pilots.

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