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Argyle International Airport. (Photo: Argyle International Airport Inc./Facebook)
Argyle International Airport. (Photo: Argyle International Airport Inc./Facebook)

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has expressed confidence that workers at Argyle International Airport will not engage in industrial action over the non-payment of increments, dating back several years.

The Public Service Union, which represents the workers, said that they have restated their commitment to industrial action if the outstanding amounts, totalling some EC$40,000, are not paid by April 12.

The union’s president, Elroy Boucher, said at a March 2 press conference that they would not repeat its mistake of a few years ago when it called off planned industrial action the night before it was to take place.

“There will be disruption. Make no mistake about it. That mistake would not be made again,” Boucher said.

The airport owes its employees increments dating back to 2016. However, the workers have decided to forfeit the payment of the sums for 2016 to 2018.

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Elroy Boucher
President of the Public Service Union, Elroy Boucher, speaking at the press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

The increment for 2019, which amounted to 1.5% of the workers’ salary, was paid in January 2023.

Speaking on WE FM on Sunday, Gonsalves said that he had not gotten involved with the issues at the airport.

“… whatever the management decides, that’s fine with me. I haven’t gotten involved to tell them accede to the PSU or not actually because I haven’t studied the issues inside out and I think they’re having discussions and they will give me a report,” he said. 

The prime minister said he had seen letters written by the PSU and the responses from the AIA.

“I want to say this though. It would be a complete dereliction of duty for any reasonable person to seek to call out workers, as they themselves have said publicly, the totality of what they’re talking about is $40,000, to close down an airport,” the prime minister said, even as he said he believes the amount owed is more than EC$40,000.

“And I do not for one moment believe that the overwhelming majority of the workers at the airport will follow that call,” Gonsalves further stated.

“The people of St. Vincent and Grenadines will shame such persons to a degree that they will never understand.”

He said he had stated in Parliament a few days earlier that “any morning you can wake me up and you tell me something I can tell you with unerring accuracy, what the people will tolerate on what they wouldn’t tolerate with unerring accuracy”.

The prime minister said this is because of his upbringing in the countryside and also having lived in the inner city from forms 5 to 6 and working as a lawyer and as a politician.

“And sometimes, I will come, I will say this proposal which is coming, the people will not support it right now. But it’s a good proposal. I’ll go and explain it to them and they will accept it, upon explanation,” Gonsalves said.

Ralph Gonsalves
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in an April 4, 2024 photo.

“But the workers at AIA, first of all, I do not believe, except for a small minority, will walk off the jobs.

“Even “¦ that small minority who might walk off, assuming the matter is settled amicably, the bulk of the people will say this is outrageous. Think of this, they’re talking about an increment in 2020 and 2021.”

He said that in 2020, the airport was closed for all practical purposes during COVID.

However, Gonsalves had also boasted that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was among the few Caribbean countries that never closed its borders during the pandemic.

On Sunday, he boasted that there are 300 workers at the airport and his government did not send home any of them.

“2021, the same thing,” Gonsalves said.

“I don’t know whether there was a promise to pay the increment or not. And the people in management … will decide that; what documentation they have and how they would resolve that. But you could see people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines agreeing that we will walk off because the airport authority hasn’t paid the persons, according to the union, increment for that period,” Gonsalves said.

“”¦ we build an airport on which people’s livelihoods depend. You going close it? They think you’re gonna make games with a country like that?” he further stated. 

However, at the March 2 press conference, Boucher said he was confident that the industrial action would be successful despite union-busting tactics employed by the government in the past.

“The guarantee is the workers’ word,” Boucher told the media. “And the fact that they were very unhappy with our failure to take action a few years back because they have said “” they continue to blame us.”

Boucher said that when the union met with the workers, they reminded the executive that it was the union that backed down a few years ago, “putting the interest of the company first”.

Boucher said the union has told the workers that it has learnt its lesson.

“And they gave us the assurance that they will follow through,” Boucher said.

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