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Air Traffic Controllers Walk-Out at the PGIA

Teachers from all branches today gathered in Belmopan for their continued strike action. While that was happening, at the Philip Goldson International Airport, members of the PSU rallied support of four employees in the Civil Aviation Department. Four air traffic controllers walked out of their jobs this morning after they received letters accusing them of negligence and sabotage after arriving late for work on Saturday. First Vice President for the PSU, Dean Flowers claims that the workers are being politically victimized.

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Effectively this morning this morning we received information that some members of the Air Traffic Control crew, gentlemen working at the tower and the radar room as I understand it are victims of what I would classify as victimization, witch hunt and some serious allegations by the Director of Civil Aviation. And of course I would have to suggest that he has the blessings of his CEO and other management staff. The letters that have been shared with me by the gentlemen accuses them of sabotage, it accuses them of negligence and it accuses them of colluding, planning and colluding the sabotage of I don’t know perhaps the landing of planes or I really don’t know but what I saw- I have skimmed over the letter and what stuck out to me was the word sabotage. As I understand it the gentlemen were late for work on Saturday. They had vehicular problems as I understand it. There was communication. The letter suggests that the communication to the director and other supervisory individuals was not timely. In any event as with any good department of course there would be a contingency plan in place. So I believe hence the reason why whatever operations were supposed to have happened on Saturday happened without any glitch. Notwithstanding that I understand two of our officers were locked out or prohibited, or kicked out I should say because they were initially let in and eventually kicked out of the Civil Aviation compound. Another two officers who were also tardy I understand were allowed in to remain and to work for the duration of half day. Thereafter all four were served with letters of administrative leave letters for one week. I understand there is now contemplation – and I found this out after visiting the Ministry of Public Service this morning that there is consultation happening there for the immediate suspension for a major misconduct of sabotage being levied upon these gentlemen. We want to say categorically that where our essential services are concerned this union has acted responsibly. We have spoken to every essential services department such as of course our health services department, the fire department and the civil aviation among others and we have said to them that we believe we can resolve this matter without engaging them as yet. And so I can categorically say that the tardiness that these gentlemen experienced as a result of mechanical failure had absolutely nothing to do with the current impasse that the Public Service Union is experiencing with the Government of Belize.”

Offering very limited response to Flowers’ claims was Director of the Civil Aviation Authority was Nigel Carter. Carter would not delve into details of the allegations made against the employees but did say that it is not a witch-hunt.

Nigel Carter, Director, Civil Aviation Authority

Nigel Carter, Director, Civil Aviation Authority: “This is an internal matter that we need to clear up within the Government of Belize with the Public Services Commission, with the Ministry of the Public Service and with the Department of Civil Aviation.”

Reporter: The president of the PSU is calling it a witch hunt sir, that is his word choice and the people who walked off today he says are doing so in solidarity with the four that are facing potential sanctions and that is the reason why this spontaneous action was done. What do you have to say about his characterization that it is a witch hunt ? 

Nigel Carter, Director, Civil Aviation Authority: “In so far as the contents of the correspondence again I can’t speak to the contents of the correspondence. I can assure you that in our opinion what we know about the situation is that, well we cannot characterize it as a witch hunt any at all. First of all the procedure that is being undertaken ensures that there is no penalties to any person that has been issued these correspondents and that we move ahead after the situation is investigated then the appropriate course of action will be taken. But I can assure you that whatever we do is with the interest of ensuring that the highest level of safety is maintained.”

Flowers further went on the defensive to say that Carter is out of line and he will have to legally respond to his allegations of sabotage.

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “I think that Mr.Carter was out of order and is out of line. I took the liberty to have a phone call with Mr.Carter at which point in time he said to me as far as he’s concerned the actions of the four of five officers were carefully planned, that they colluded, they orchestrated this and that in his eyes they are guilty of sabotage, negligence and I believe reckless behavior or something to that effect. We reject that in its entirety and I want to state categorically that in addition to offering moral support to these officers we will be offering them legal support as well because Mr.Carter will have to respond in the Supreme Court for the accusation of sabotage against this country, against these gentlemen. He will have to respond to that and the sad part about all of this is that the people of Belize may very well be held on the hook for compensation if a court so decides to these gentlemen whose reputation and good character is being questioned, put on the line and tarnished here today by the leadership of the Civil Aviation Authority. And so I want to say thank you to all the other members of the authority that you see out here today and this is when we say touch one, touch all. And I’m proud to see that the other members of the authority knowing the good character of their colleagues decided to stand in solidarity with them today as they should, as brothers and sisters in union. And I hope that the example being exhibited today by the brothers and sisters in civil aviation will be emulated across this country and in every other unit, department and ministry. If you stand together you will put an end to the intimidation, the victimization and the bullying by your immediate supervisors, CEOs, HODs, ministers whoever they are. You do not and should not sit idle by and watch the abuse that your coworkers are experiencing. You have the right to defend them in the same manner that you have the right to defend yourself against such actions.”

Reporter: What if they call the police at you all.

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Well I can tell you this. Police got your?”

Crowd: “Side !”

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Police got your ?”

Crowd: “Side ! “

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “So they could bring police all they want. BNTU got your ?”

Crowd: “Back !”

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “BNTU got your ?”

Crowd: “Back !” 

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “PSU got your ?”

Crowd: “Front !”

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “PSU got your ?”

Crowd: “Front !”

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Police got your ?”

Crowd: “Side !”

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Police got your ?”

Crowd: “Side ! ” 

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: “Thank you. You see how far the police stay ? Alright.”

Also speaking on the matter was the Minister of Civil Aviation and Blue Economy, Andre Perez. Minister Perez told the media that the walkout today did not affect the services provided by the Authority. He said that local and international flights were not affected.

Andre Perez, Minister of Civil Aviation

Andre Perez, Minister of Civil Aviation: “I can report that services were not interrupted and flights continued to arrive and depart as scheduled. Our responsibility as a Civil Aviation Department is to ensure that safe and optimum air traffic services are being provided at the Philip Goldson International Airport and I must commend our staff for responding quickly and efficiently. I must say that our team has been fully aware of the impending threat of such actions as we understand that some of the staff are members or sympathetic to the cause of the unions. That is their right and their prerogative but as the Ministry of Civil Aviation it is our responsibility to ensure that these essential services remain uninterrupted and safe.”

Nigel Carter, Director, Civil Aviation Authority: “Sufficient staff remained in place to ensure that all air craft that were inside of Belize’s air space either landed safely or exited Belizean airspace therefore there were no disruptions in services in that regard. At approximately 12:36 PM we activated our contingency plan. This contingency plan ensured that the Central American Region Control Center would have ensured that all en route air traffic control services would be provided. Not withstanding we had staff at the air traffic control center available to ensure that aircraft landed safely at the PGIA. At approximately 12:51 PM we had sufficient staff in both the air traffic control approach center as well as the aerodrome control center to ensure that Belize had full control of all its airspace. During the event I have to reiterate that there was no threat to safety during the event and there were no delays to any aircraft.”