Security screeners protest conditions at Marsh Harbor airport

Security screeners protest conditions at Marsh Harbor airport

Cargill: Airport will open for intl. traffic Friday

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Two security screeners at the airport in Marsh Harbour have resigned amid growing protest over their working conditions.

Eyewitness News Online can confirm six security screeners abandoned their posts on Friday, detailing unsanitary working conditions and poor compensation in a handwritten letter to the Airport Authority.

All of the security screeners lost their homes as a result of Hurricane Dorian; however, workers claim they have been working 10-hour shifts with no overtime pay.

They told Eyewitness News Online mold is on every floor of the airport and garbage is rimming over.

It was also claimed airport employees had to clean up feces from evacuees both around and inside the building following the storm.

“It’s making me feel less than a human being,” said one screener, who asked not to be named. “The treatment is not good. We are working under a company that does not care for us.”

Yesterday, Aviation director Algernon Cargill maintained the Airport Authority provided workers with the opportunity to relocate.

He said only 13 employees opted to remain in Abaco, adding he was not aware of the severity of the matter.

“The Airport Authority’s mandate is to provide safe and sanitary working conditions for all employees, and we understand that, but we are not dealing with very normal circumstances,” he said. “These are unusual circumstances coming from the storm.

“…We understand that given these challenges, that the working conditions employees face would not be the normal situation. We certainly respect their rights to protest against what they would call abnormal situations, but on the other hand, we ask them to also appreciate that this is a challenge for everyone in the short term.”

The Leonard M. Thompson International Airport was significantly damaged during the passage of Hurricane Dorian on September 1–3.

The facility is open to domestic flights; however, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has reportedly issued a directive for the airport to be reopened to international traffic by the end of this week.

Eyewitness News Online traveled through the airport last Friday and observed parts of the facility are still in darkness.

The metal detector appeared to be working, and was powered by a drop cord; however, airport staff were still processing passengers, including scanning their baggage, in darkness.

The airport had no running water on Friday and at the entrance of the bathrooms a sign read: “Out of Service”.

Bahamasair ticket agents could be seen manually recording passenger information on a printed-out spreadsheet.

“We have worked in terrible conditions such as; no running water, no light, non-sanitary equipment and working area and extreme heat,” the letter read. “We also believe the airport to be infested with mold, along with the insect problem there always was. This is a health risk.

“The generator that was giving the airport power has been non-operational for over a week, and the smaller machine cannot handle the load of turning on lights.

“We have had enough and will not come back to work until there are better conditions, compensation and pay raise.”

Last month, the government announced that there will be a $1,000 lump sum payment for all government workers affected by the record storm, with a $2,600 payout for those who have been relocated. However, Airport Authority workers and other quasi-government employees do not qualify for this benefit.

Workers also claimed no counseling has been offered to the staffers in the wake of the deadly storm.

Bernard Swann, shop stewart for the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), told Eyewitness News Online yesterday employees have tried their best to work under the circumstances.

He said the union believes workers needed more time to catch themselves,
before returning to work.

However, in a voice note sent to the security screeners last Friday, Swann urged those same employees to return to work today.

“I’m not saying you’re right, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but you did walk off the job,” he said, in the nine-minute voice-recording.

“And because you are not a part of the Bahamas Public Service and because you are a part of Airport Authority that has a management structure, you are subject to be terminated today.”

Swann told workers he spoke to Airport Authority Human Resource Manager Chegera Pople, adding they will be given some leniency given the traumatic experience.

“They flew in some security screeners from Nassau to hold the post for a few days, while you’re making your point off the job,” he continued. “That leniency is extended to you, but these people who came in only came in for two, maybe three days.

“I am asking you, as your shop steward, I am asking you to go back to work. I know it’s frustrating…It’s not the best of times for no one, especially y’all in Abaco who are severely affected and impacted by this dilemma.

“But the reality is, there is no money coming to you, that’s the reality. Your challenge therefore is to make the best of your situation.”

Swann said the union is in talks with the government to extend compensation to their employees.

In the recording, Swann said he advised screeners will be able to use the RVs shipped to Abaco as temporary residences or shelters. He said counseling will be made available, should they request it.

“My advice to you is to take it,” Swann said.

Yesterday, one screener said she was told her children or other relatives could not stay in those RVs.

Eyewitness News Online understands the five screeners, all men, transferred from Nassau are being housed, and paid a daily stipend.

Yesterday, Cargill said there is a plan in place to get the generator working 24-hours and water restored to the airport. He said plans are also underway to ensure to that the airport is
completely sanitized and mold-free.

Cargill stressed the resignation of those employees will not impact plans to have the airport ready for international flights by Friday.

“It shouldn’t affect the overall impact of the airport,” he said. “If they have resigned, we have opportunities to replace them. But it is unfortunate that communication would not have been held between the employees and the Airport Authority, particularly in terms of resignation and walking off the job.”