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Ministry of Civil Aviation says sickout unexpected; tourists unfazed

Lindsay Garbutt

Phillip Goldson International Airport

Phillip Goldson International Airport

Monday, February 23, 2015. AARON HUMES Reporting: For several hours on Saturday, Belize’s only major international airport, the Philip Goldson International Airport at Ladyville, was paralyzed by inaction due to a decision taken by employees working in the air traffic control department to report sick.

These employees’ service are considered essential under law and their options to protest working conditions through industrial action are severely limited.

But their list of complaints has grown steadily and the result on Saturday was inconvenience for quite a few groups of stranded travelers.

Around midday representatives of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation hosted the press to a briefing which essentially reported that the situation was back under control.

Lindsay Garbutt

Lindsay Garbutt

According to the Ministry’s Director for Civil Aviation Lindsay Garbutt, just a few flights were ultimately affected – the international flights for Delta Airlines and Avianca of El Salvador.

According to Garbutt, the Ministry has been meeting regularly with the employees and had already begun to address some of their critical issues, such as a lack of trained and qualified staff, delayed salary adjustment and increments, replacements for equipment and uniforms, and so on.

Tracy Panton

Tracy Panton

Despite the surprise of Saturday’s events, he says, those efforts will continue.

Speaking about the impact of Saturday’s sick-out on flights into and out of Belize and the overall tourism product, Ministry CEO Tracey Taegar-Panton said that their priority was to resume activity as quickly and safely as possible, and she expects no lasting damage.

She reiterated that nothing had come to her desk regarding air traffic controllers’ specific concerns that necessitated urgent talks.

The Ministry has issued a formal apology to those affected. The controllers are not affiliated with any union although as public officers they would qualify to be members of the Public Service Union (PSU), and have met with them in the past.

The few visitors heading out of Belize before normal service was resumed, to whom we spoke on Saturday, for the most part took the news of flight delays in stride.

A young woman we spoke to said she hoped to get back in time for school in the U.S., while a man identifying himself as Jason from Idaho, who has been to Belize before, says he personally doesn’t mind driving down in a vehicle but warns that an incident like this does leave a sour taste in some visitors’ mouths.

A second man we spoke with said that Belize has taught him “patience” in matters of this sort.

Some 300,000 persons visited Belize overnight in 2014, many of whom came by aircraft.

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