Working under the hammer


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Category: Reflections 24 Sep 06


BWIA the national airline shuts down on December 31 after 66 years of operations. This is the second in a series of first person employee responses.


“This is my 28th year of flying as a pilot for BWIA and I feel relief at its impending closure. The consensus is let them fix it or shut it down, make a clean break and restart on a clean slate.


“For 30 years BWIA survived from hand out to hand out. BWIA faced receivership in 2000 when bills were unpaid and two aircraft were impounded in Miami. Government plugged in life support, and there we’ve stayed ever since.


“During the intervening six years, employees have been living under the hammer with the threat of closure, no increases in salaries and no improved working conditions.


“BWIA’s staff has attained a high standard in operations, maintenance, and flight attendants. It’s a tragedy that BWIA in its latter years operated in such a way to drive away pilots and maintenance personnel who are now gracing the cockpits and hangers of big airlines like Virgin, Emirates and British Airways.


“BWIA pilots are paid nowhere near international rates and earn about half of what Air Jamaica and Cayman Airways pilots earn.


“Along comes Arthur Lok Jack with straight talk at last.


“BWIA runs a bloated establishment compared with modern airlines. A model—low waste, well-run streamlined airline carriers have approximately 80 to 110 employees per aircraft. BWIA has nine aircraft with 1,600 employees. We probably clear tons of rainforests with administrative paperwork.


“Administration, accounts and bosses knock off work at three in the afternoon. My heart bleeds for traffic reservations staff and flight crew with the kind of overtime and abuse they have to take.


Massive anxiety


“I don’t question what happened but how. There isn’t any malice in Arthur Lok Jack and the board towards employees. It was a difficult but correct decision. My beef is how BWIA management has gone about it.


“A new company can’t start by January 1, 2007 without a high level of subterfuge.


“From the time people in control are holding you at arms length, playing their cards close to their chest, not answering questions, telling you ‘Leave the management to us’ you create massive anxiety.


“When management brings negotiations to a halt by offering workers a package they know is going to be unacceptable you start to suspect that the stalling is deliberate and that they are playing for time.


“Although BWIA has never made money there is plenty money to be made off BWIA. Few people in management have not benefited one way or another.


“Caribbean Air Line (CAL) is to be a scaled back lean and mean machine with a cut back fleet of five or six. BWIA has committed to putting up guidance hotlines for a thousand people who are not going to be rehired including 40 per cent of pilots.


“Our small country’s safety record is enviable in the world of flying, almost equal to the big Australian airline Qantas, which is touted having a 100 per cent safety record. We’ve never lost an aircraft or passenger. This has to do with Talpa (T&T Airline Pilots Association). Ours is the most regulated profession in the world. Left to management the safety envelope would have been pushed to the limit. If CAL operates without Talpa I can’t guarantee that the current safety record will hold.


“Flying for BWIA has kept me here for 29 years. There’s pride in strapping up and carrying your folks to their destination.”


Next week: Former manager speaks up.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur