October 13th 2019 was marked as the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. The theme for this year was “Reducing Disaster Damage to Critical Infrastructure and Disruption of Basic Services.”
On October 15, 2019, the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies hosted a panel discussion on the aforementioned theme. I was pleased to moderate this panel discussion that comprised of Ports Authority, Airport Authority, Provo Water Company, Planning, Interhealth Canada, Digicel, Flow and Ministry of Infrastucture.
The panelists agreed the importance of building disaster resilience in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Overall, the discussion was great and excellent feedback was provided. However, the challenge is that all of the information that was discussed may just remain in that room.
Given what happened with the Air Traffic controllers, it is clear that we need a contingency plan in the event of the disruption of basic services.
The Air Traffic Controllers Strike
It was reported that all of the air traffic controllers called in sick on October 25th 2019 and later that day many of them were seen in the Grace Bay area demonstrating. As a result of the strike, our airports were inoperable and so no one can enter or exit Turks and Caicos.
Apparently the employees demonstrated against the alleged unfavourable working conditions and the low compensation (when compared to the rest of the Caribbean) they receive from the Airport Authority.
Let me say upfront I believe that all employees no matter who they work for should be treated fairly and compensated equitably especially if the organization they work for have substantial revenue and cash flow. Employees must have the modern tools and equipment to work with and have a good working environment.
On the other hand, I don’t believe anyone should initiate a strike unless they have exhausted all means for negotiation. While the air traffic controllers ultimately report to the CEO of the Airports Authority, the CEO however reports to a Board. If the CEO is nonresponsive to their requests, then lodge the unfair working conditions and compensation to a grievances committee if there is any. If such committee is non-existent or even if a committee of such exists, and you are not satisfied, take it to the Board. If you take it to the Board and you are still not satisfied take it to the Labour Department. If you were not successful with the Labour Department, let the Minister know because the Minister has more leverage over Statutory Bodies then they have over Departments of Government.
I cannot support or endorse a strike if employees did not utilize or exhaust all of the above channels for negotiation.
Contingency Plan is a must
Everyone needs a contingency plan. Families need contingency plans. Businesses need contingency plans. The public sector including the Statutory Bodies need a contingency plan. The contingency plan needs to be effective. We need to test these contingency plans to ensure they are workable because you can say you have a plan but when disaster strikes, the plan does not work.
A contingency plan should ensure that there are other trained individuals elsewhere who can stepped in at any time to assume the roles in the event a strike takes place. Ensure that these individuals are up to date in the relevant industry and have an agreement with them in that they are willing and will work in the event of a strike.
It appears that there is a breakdown in communication at the Airports Authority. Based on information in the public domain, the issues are being addressed but it does not appear the employees knew about it.
Finally, I believe that people should always stand up for their rights. No one should be working in substandard conditions or working below the salary benchmark for their roles. However, no one should abuse their positions to cause disruption of basic services in our country. Hence a contingency plan is essential in the event disruption takes place.