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Bahamasair union: Offer packages before restructuring

Call for airline to ‘fly its way’ out of profitability issues
  • Nelerene Harding.

Guardian Business Reporter

Published: Oct 29, 2013

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MIAMI, Florida- While they have no objection to Bahamasair being privatized, President of the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU) Nelerene Harding said the union will not compromise on the issue of job losses and pay cuts.

She also suggested that Bahamasair needs to “fly its way” out of its current problems by taking on more strategic routes.

“Offer early retirement packages that would allow people that want to leave to do so with dignity.  Then after that, you can talk about restructuring.  I don’t think that any employee would want to work for an organization after their salaries have been cut.  There is no way that you can afford to do that.  It’s not a sacrifice that we are willing to make in terms of job losses and pay cuts,” she told Guardian Business.

“There is no way that you can talk about taking a cut in your pay to substantiate someone taking over, where it’s going to be profitable to them and they will pay their employees probably better than what we are being paid.”

“We make $76 million per annum in revenue.  Even if you cut jobs, the airline is still not growing, so we have to look at it that way.”

But in order for the airline to grow, Harding suggested the government needs to look for route structures outside of Florida, particularly as the multimillion-dollar Baha Mar project is set to open in December 2014.

“We have to fly ourselves out of this problem.  With Baha Mar coming on stream, we think the government needs to assign someone from the Ministry of Tourism to be in charge of Bahamasair’s marketing department, so that they are able to assist us with talks regarding route structures,” Harding said.

“And on top of that, Bahamasair really doesn’t need to be under the Ministry of Works, but it needs to be under the Ministry of Tourism.  That’s one of the key things that we see.”

With privatization talks reportedly ongoing, Harding said the biggest concern for her union is job losses and pay cuts.  She is calling on Prime Minister Perry Christie to meet with all unions representing the airline’s employees to discuss the way forward.

“We have seen the letter that Mr. Henry Woods [the airline’s managing director] would have written to the deputy prime minister.  In the letter, he is recommending job cuts,” she said.

“Even in conversation with the prime minister, it was mentioned that they wanted to grow this airline with a strategic partner.  He said he is going to need the union’s support and a buy-in to what it is that they want to do.”

Woods has maintained that labor costs are Bahamasair’s biggest burden.  He said it’s an issue the airline has sought to address.

Recently a senior flight attendant who had been working with the airline for 36 years was reportedly terminated, a move which Harding called an “unfair dismissal”.  As a result, employees are now into the fourth day of work to rule and will do so until the matter is resolved.

Harding, along with Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson, president of the National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB), is looking to meet with the prime minister sometime today.  If the NCTUB is not satisfied with the outcome of that meeting, Bahamasair employees could strike.

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