Friday, May 03, 2013
Let me take the opportunity of the impending Labour Day celebrations to send best wishes to all the working people of Antigua and Barbuda, the region and the wider world. I particularly want to recognise and congratulate Organised Labour and the Trade Unions for the superb work they do in protecting the jobs and working lives of their members.
As a former trade union leader myself I fully support the rights of workers to organise and mobilize for robust representation.
In these hard times when investments — and even property — can become worthless overnight, a job can be the most important asset we have to help us recover from financial distress.
I now want to turn to a couple of points regarding the proposed amendments to the Antigua and Barbuda Labour code.
Let me make it clear that I speak solely in relation to the aviation industry and, in particular, the plight of commercial air carriers, otherwise known as airlines.
Of all the players in the aviation industry, airlines sit right at the bottom of the “food chain”. All other participants: booking agencies, aircraft lessors and manufacturers, travel agencies, caterers etc. historically see much more return on their investment than the airlines. In fact, over the years 1996 to 2004, mainly good years for the world’s economy, the return on investment for airlines was 5 per cent, well below the cost of capital (Source: IATA Economics Briefing No.4, Geneva 2006). Further, for the last 30 years, the average net profit margin for the world’s airlines has been negative.
In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, the current Labour Code makes it very difficult and costly to run an aviation enterprise. Very often we have seen where aviation carriers and the travelling public are arbitrarily held to ransom by employees exploiting certain provisions therein.
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code and proposed amendments seem to address the plight of employees working normal work-day hours on a Monday to Friday basis but do not take into account the exigencies of industries such as aviation that have to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
I welcome the amendment to Clause C14 of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code regarding removing the right for employees to refuse to work on Public Holidays for those workers “who accepts employment in an establishment/enterprise which operates on Public Holidays”. If this amendment is not adopted in the Labour Code, airlines operating through Antigua will continue to be exposed to having their schedules compromised on any given Public Holiday by employees arbitrarily refusing to come to work. This is obviously an untenable situation and may prompt airlines to make changes which remove V.C. Bird International from their schedules on public holidays.
Classification as an essential service, with legislated restricted rights to strike, is reserved for certain vital sectors.
But shouldn’t the services provided by the aviation industry, which are so fundamental to this country’s economy, be included in the list of essential services?
Tourism is the mainstay of the majority of the region’s economies and air services connect the countries of the Caribbean, feeding that primary revenue stream.
Further, all the institutions which help to forge the integration of the peoples of this region: OECS, CARICOM, CSME, West Indies Cricket, and many others, are dependent on aviation services for their proper functioning. Aviation in the Caribbean is the bridge that connects the islands.
I therefore submit that aviation services should be treated in a different way to other industries and it is important that governments throughout the region act now to list aviation services as Essential.
I am careful to suggest that it is the services provided by the aviation industry that must be essential, rather than the industry within which it operates and would like to invite persons to consider the following factors:
• The possible consequences, direct and indirect on regional economies, of the periodic interruption to the supply of those services as a result of industrial action;
• Whether aviation services support other essential services;
• Whether employees involved in the provision of air services are so highly skilled that other employees would be able to acquire those skills only after lengthy training and experience;
• Whether there is a readily available pool of alternative labour. Given the strict security provisions involved in the provision of most aviation services, and that a large proportion of the functions rendered by aviation companies require specialised employees, replacement labour may not be easily accessible, if at all.
As Labour Day approaches, I invite all members of the government/labour/employer tripartite partnership to join hands and strive to support our struggling economy and enrich our collective work experience by observing the best principles of governance, service and mutual respect.
By Ian Brunton, CEO LIAT (1974) Ltd