Were the air traffic controllers staged sick-out and firing justified?

Strike word on wooden blocks

Were the air traffic controllers staged sick-out and firing justified?

Neither of the actions was justified.


On March 1st, 2024, many international flights to and from the Turks and Caicos were delayed or even cancelled due to the air traffic controllers staging a sick out. Apparently, the air traffic controllers reached a point where they had enough of the working conditions and their salaries. However, was the sick-out justified and necessary? Their employer, The Airports Authority do not think it was justified and that their actions demonstrated a “breach of trust and integrity.”

This article is to review the perspectives from both the air traffic controllers and The Airports Authority and form an opinion and make recommendations.

The Perspectives from the Air Traffic Controllers

The Air Traffic Controllers love their job but the conditions under which they work are making them frustrated. One of the challenging issues is the inadequate parking slots to accommodate commercial airlines, especially during weekends when there are at least twenty airlines. Another issue that frustrates the air traffic controllers is the lack of modern radar technology and as a result, air traffic controllers must exchange information among themselves and the pilots manually. This can cause more work for the employees. This can also cause errors which can lead to safety issues. Another concern for the air traffic controllers is that there is no parallel taxiway and so there is much congestion which leads to more stress for the workers. The air traffic controllers also feel that there is a shortage of staff and so they are overworked and underpaid. While they did receive a pay increase in 2022, the controllers said they were promised annual increases thereafter but that did not happen. They believe they deserve a significant increase in salary ranging from 36k to over 100k as they claimed their salaries are less than their counterparts in the region. The controllers also feel there is a lack of appreciation for the critical role they play which involves ensuring safe and efficient air travel. The confirmation that their invaluable contribution to the aviation industry was not recognized when they were allegedly told they could be replaced and then some of them were eventually terminated.

The Perspectives from The Airports Authority

According to the response from The Airports Authority, they felt that the sick leave was abused “with the intentional pursuit of causing harm, disrupting business, and compromising the safety of the travelling public. Such actions are a breach of trust and integrity, as well as a failure to adhere to the standards of honesty and transparency expected of all employees.” The Airport Authority further stated that despite the traffic controllers not showing up to work for being sick, they showed up for a meeting to discuss salaries. “This conduct further undermines the principles of integrity, professionalism and accountability.” Another thing that complicated the matter was that one of the representatives admitted that the actions of the controllers were not wrong. In their press release, the Airports Authority also stated that in 2022, they gave two salary increases which amounted to 31% increase. However, they also claimed that in January and February, the traffic controllers were made aware that a review of their salaries would take place. They also said they would recruit new and former employees.

The inadequate parking gates will be addressed as part of the redevelopment plan for a new airport in which the number of parking gates will increase from the current nine to eighteen. In addition, there will be four jet bridges. There are plans to implement a modern radar system, but it is not something that can happen overnight. Once it is implemented, there will be a need for workers as there will be more overflight controls. There will be a parallel taxiway with the new airport.

Was the sick-out justified?

I am not in the position of the air traffic controllers, but I do understand about the stress levels an employee can experience due to the working conditions and lower salaries. Employees have a right to speak out and should be encouraged by management. However, I do not think the sick-out was justified, especially if they are aware of the proposed changes to the new airport. Some of these changes cannot take place now due to the limitations of the existing airport. Also, if indeed they were told early in the year that a salary review would take place this year, they should have waited until the review was done. Furthermore, the controllers know how critical their role is in the tourism industry and their actions not only disrupted travel plans for residents and tourists, but it created a lot of panic and uncertainty.

Was the firing justified?

Like the sick-out not being justified, I think the termination of employees was not justified. Of course, I do not know the grounds on which some folks were terminated but if an employee has a sick leave note from a medical doctor who supposed to be professional, then who are we to say they were not sick.  Even if they didn’t have a note and they called in sick, how do we know they were not sick. Now if an employee admitted that he or she was not sick, this may be considered gross misconduct and may give the Airports Authority a case for termination. I don’t know if there was admission by an employee. However, I do know in the press release it noted that employees showed up to a meeting even though they were sick. You can be sick and still show up to a meeting.


I don’t know who advised the controllers but maybe it is time for us to consider the possibility of establishing trade unions who would advocate on behalf of their members.

The salary review will take place in May 2024, perhaps there is a need to move up the review earlier than May.

Perhaps a suspension without pay should have taken place rather than firing.

Communication is the key and this should be done regularly between employees and employer. I am not sure if the employees are aware of the details of the redevelopment plan which addresses most of their concerns.

I also think that employees should have given their employer a reasonable time frame to review their request.

The Airports Authority need to have a redundancy plan in case it happens again.


There is a process for everything, and these issues could have been resolved without a staged-sick out or the termination of employees. Employees’ concerns must not be ignored or take years to address. At the same time though, people should think about how their actions can impact the country in a negative way. Did their actions bring about the desired changes they want? No.

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