Operations at Argyle International Airport (AIA) may come to a halt next month if the management does not respond to workers’ grievances, some of which were raised two years ago.
President of the Public Service Union, Elroy Boucher, told a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, that the workers were ready to withdraw their service from last week.
However, the union asked them to shelve industrial action, pending the outcome of talks with the new chairman of the board of director of the state-owned company
“Now I’m putting this out to the media and the public because on the 29th of this month, we should commence negotiations on a collective agreement. But if these issues are not addressed, there will be industrial action at the AIA,” Boucher said.
He said that the PSU was recognised as the workers’ bargaining agent since 2020 and on
Sept. 18, 2020, the union submitted a collective bargaining agreement for negotiation on behalf of workers.
“Almost two years have passed since the AIA has not responded favourably to the call to negotiate,” Boucher said.
He said that since 2017 the PSU brought to the attention of AIA management a number of issues affecting workers and requested dialogue to address them.
“The PSU experienced resistance from the management of the AIA in having dialogue aimed at addressing the issues that are affecting workers.
“The management of AIA refused to meet with the union over a two-year period t have these issues addressed.”
He said that while waiting for negotiation of the collective agreements, the union discovered that the management of AIA was changing the terms and conditions of the workers’ employment without communicating with their union.
He said that the outstanding issues including sick leave.
Currently workers are granted 14 days sick leave annually, including of unclassified leave
He said that while AIA says this is in keeping with the law, the law they are referring to applies to security guards.
“The aviation security officers at the AIA are not security guards,” Boucher said, adding that when the aviation security officers were at the now decommissioned ET Joshua Airport were eligible for three months’ sick leave.
They moved from ET Joshua, which is a regional airport to an international airport and the result was 14 days sick leave, inclusive of certified leave.”:
He said this presented a problem for workers, as uncertified leave speaks to the days when someone calls in sick and the illness last a day or two.
Boucher pointed out that the law says that if a person is unwell for three consecutive days, they have to obtain and submit a sick leave note from a doctor.
He said that the AIA decided to take from workers vacation or salary six days in excess of the 14 days.
He said the government policy on leave for COVID-19 says that a vaccinated person who contracts COVID-19 “that has to be crafter under a special leave”.
Boucher said that this leave cannot be taken from the worker’s vacation days nor must the worker lose pay because of it.
“It clearly states that whatever time you spend at home as a result of being in quarantine or being sick with COVID, you must be compensated.”
He, however, said that the AIA took workers COVID-19 leave from their sick leave.
“So when people become ill other than COVID, they have no sick leave left,” he said adding that the workers had to then decide if to take these days from their vacation of 18 days annual or their salary.
“That creates a lot of stress because after working a whole year, workers need to take time out to rest their bodies.”
He said that the union met very recently with AIA to address this issue and the meeting came about because of the intervention of the new chair of the board of directors, Ken Young.
“Previous to this management I refuse to engage the union,” Boucher said, adding that the union “made it clear that what the management had been doing is really illegal and it had to be
The union leader said that the AIA manual states that workers must be granted compassionate leave of three days when a close family member dies.
He, however, said that the AIA is demanding that the workers bring a death certificate – something that he said some may consider to be normal.
He said that a death certificate has to be circulated to various entities, adding that SVG is a small place and when there is a death in a family, the person usually simply informs their employers.
“Nobody takes it that you’re lying or you’re just doing this to get away with some days. It’s a small country. Everybody literally knows everybody,” he said, adding insistence on producing a death certificate became onerous on workers.
He said that in one case, a man’s step father, who had raised her from childhood, died but the management denied her compassionate leave.
“The gentleman had to go and take vacation. And this is how cold-hearted the management of the AIA is towards these workers.”
Boucher said that the PSU has called to the attention of the new chairman issues relating to health and safety.