Jamaican air traffic controllers dispute lingers

Cayman awaits resolution

Jamaican authorities hope to begin talks with the country’s air traffic controllers next week to resolve an ongoing wage dispute that sent workers on a 40-hour strike over the weekend and disrupted international passenger service, including the cancellation of two Cayman Airways flights. 

The walk-out, ended by an order of the Jamaica Supreme Court late on Sunday, briefly disrupted flights at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, forcing the national flag carrier of the Cayman Islands to cancel one inbound and one outbound flight between Owen Roberts International Airport and Jamaica. “The Norman Manley International Airport was closed at 9pm on Sunday, 23 June due to ‘industrial action’ by air traffic controllers,” said Olivia Scott Ramirez, Cayman Airways spokeswoman. “As a result, Cayman Airways’ Kingston flights KX608 and KX609 had to be cancelled because the regularly scheduled arrival and departure times of those flights were after the 9pm closing of the airport.” 

Ms Scott Ramirez said the airline added a Monday afternoon flight, KX2608, which departed Grand Cayman at 2pm and was scheduled to arrive in Kingston at 2.55pm.” On the return leg, she said, flight KX2609 was scheduled to depart Kingston at 3.50pm, arriving in Grand Cayman at 4.45pm. 

“No further cancellations are expected as a result of the controllers’ industrial action in Jamaica at this time, but Cayman Airways is continuing to monitor the situation,” she said. 

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Kerith McCoy said local airport operations remained unaffected by the action. 

“Duty officers reported no situations with passengers over the weekend,” he said. “The airline notified passengers, and they notified us on Sunday morning.” 

Karl Wedderburn, the director of the Jamaican Ministry of Labour’s Industrial Relations and Allied Services department, said Monday that the action began “on the first shift, Saturday morning, about 7am”, and ended Sunday night about 11pm. 

Mr. Wedderburn cautioned, however, that “the matter remains unresolved, and must be decided by the parties involved.” 

Wages, he said, “is the main issue”, although he declined to discuss details. 

Nearly 200 members of the air traffic controllers union staged a “sick-out” on Saturday morning, citing not only wages, but a lack of confidence in the equipment and other problems at the Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority, where managers replaced striking workers in the Norman Manley control tower. 

“Management was out working, and some flights were delayed, but things are back to normal,” Ann Marie Toomer, assistant to the director of the Civil Aviation Authority, told the Caymanian Compass on Monday morning. 

“Normally, the Minister of Labour steps in and they are able to talk. The strike is not settled, though. The court ordered them back to work.” 

The Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority had long-standing contingency plans “to run the operation” as necessary, “and there is a close-off time for air traffic, shutting the airport after a certain hour. All the airlines are notified,” she said. 

Mr. Wedderburn said the courts had prohibited any further action by the controllers for one month, encouraging negotiations. 

“For the period of the injunction, 28 days, they can’t do anything, and during that period we will try to resolve the issues.  

That period is normal, and there is no action or disruptions of any kind or they will be taken 
before the court,” he said. 

According to press reports from Kingston, most flights operated normally, although passengers on a Sunday pre-dawn flight to New York were delayed until mid-afternoon. Norman Manley closed Saturday at 10pm, reopening at 8.23am on Sunday. 


Two Cayman Airways flights between Grand Cayman and Jamaica were cancelled this past weekend due to an ongoing wage dispute that saw Jamaican air traffic controllers stage a “sick-out” on Saturday. – Photo: Jeff Brammer

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