|Howai takes command |
By Miranda La Rose Wednesday, July 2 2014
Finance Minister Larry Howai yesterday stepped in as line minister for Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) and the Chief Personnel Officer to avert a complete shutdown of local and international flights, and a closure of the Piarco International Airport due to threats of industrial action by pilots and immigration officers.
Flights were grounded during the course of yesterday after some 25 CAL pilots yesterday called in sick to back their demands for the payment of outstanding incentives.
“I have instructed the chairman to do what he has to do to get these flights out as early as possible, if possible first thing in the morning. He has undertaken to work on that this evening (yesterday) to ensure that is accomplished,” Howai said.
Howai spoke with Newsday during the tea break of yesterday’s sitting of the Senate in Port-of-Spain.
He said the flight to London was due to take off last evening, while rosters were to be put in place to clear the backlog of other passengers who have been stranded in both Trinidad and Tobago.
More than 40 flights, including its international and domestic flights, but mostly between Tobago and Trinidad, have been affected.
According to Howai, he held discussions with CAL chairman Phillip Marshall at which he gave instructions that measures be put in place to deal with outstanding issues.
He subsequently met with president of the Public Service Association (PSA) Watson Duke at which they agreed “to sit and work out the differences and see how best we can come to some kind of an agreement.” The immigration officers at Piarco International Airport are represented by the PSA. “In light of that and in good faith,” Howai said Duke “has indicated that he is prepared to have his workers come back into work with a view to facilitating those discussions.” He expected the immigration workers to be on the job today.
Regarding the pilots’ sickout, Howai said the management of CAL was a bit surprised by the action that had been taken. When the management spoke with the Trinidad and Tobago Pilots Association (TTALPA), he said the union’s bargaining agent said they did not sanction the decision the pilots had taken. Nevertheless, he said the priority was to get the flights back in the air and impressed on the chairman that he had to get involved in supporting the management to ensure that it was done.
The London flight, he said, was due to leave last evening as two senior pilots had indicated they were prepared to man the flight. Other flights, he said should get moving, “maybe not early in the morning because rostering would have had to be completed.”
In terms of contingencies, he said the CAL chairman had informed him that they had put foreign travellers in hotels. Because all the flights were not filled, he said, there would have been room to start moving passengers on a graduated basis to clear the backlog.
The situation, he said, was further complicated by a problem over the weekend with one of the Boeing 737s which they had put on a special flight to Tobago to clear some stand-by passengers. “Unfortunately a bird flew into one of the engines, and the plane had to be taken out of service,” he said. Boeing is currently flying in staff to help deal with that matter. On the issue of the incentive payment, Howai said, “discussions will take place with TTALPA to see to what extent we could bring that to a conclusion.”
On his meeting with the PSA president, Howai said, “I expect that we should have an agreement by the end of this week. It is something we are all committed to doing to try to come an agreement as quickly as possible.” He said he could not negotiate with the union as negotiations lie with the Chief Personnel Officer and not the line minister. “I think Mr Duke came to see me,” he said, “because of the fact that as the line minister I could make some intervention with the CPO to move the process along.”
He gave Duke the undertaking to do so. “We certainly are aligned with Mr Duke to try to bring this to a conclusion as early as possible,” he said.