Flight delays as airport ground handling staff call in sick en masse

Ground handling staff at Maldives’ Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) have called in sick en masse in protest over pay grievances, leading to flight departure delays today.

The Maldives Airports Corporation Ltd (MACL) has downplayed the matter and said “operations at the airport are normal.”

A ground handling staff member who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News that staff called in sick starting at 11:00 pm on Wednesday. Only eight of the 16 scheduled staff turned up for the night shift, while only four of the 16 scheduled staff reported for the morning and afternoon shifts, the source said.

MACL’s HR Manager Ali Huzaim confirmed that “some ground handling staff have called in sick,” but said the reduced man power had not affected flight departures.

“Labour laws guarantee employees 30 days of sick leave in a year. This is a right they have. There are some who have called in sick in the ground-handling department. However, there have been no flight delays because of reduced manpower,” Huzaim said.

CEO of MACL, Ibrahim ‘Bandu’ Saleem said 10-12 percent of the company’s employees were on leave at any given point and that today was no different.

“Operations are normal at the airport,” Saleem said.

Despite Huzaim’s claim there were no delays in flight departures, ground handling staff told Minivan News that Condor Flight DE 3327, Air India Flight AI 264, Hainan Airline Flight HU 7952, Singapore Airline Flight SQ 461, and British Airways Flight BA 2042 faced between 30-45 minutes delay in departure.

Minivan News confirmed the reports independently. Flights arriving in the Maldives meanwhile experienced only minor delays today.

“MACL has not carried out work appraisals for two years now, which means we do not get any promotions. The company regulations stipulate that a percentage of profits be distributed among the company’s staff. However, that has not happened. Further, we still continue to turn up to work in GMR’s uniforms,” they said.

GMR-MAHB won a concession agreement to manage and upgrade Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) under the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) administration, which was ousted from power on 7 February 2012 amid protests and a police mutiny.

The new government, comprising a coalition of former opposition parties under current President Mohamed Waheed, declared in late 2012 that GMR-MAHB’s agreement was ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the outset) and gave the developer seven days’ notice to leave the country.

“We have had several meetings with [MACL management] about our grievances, but we have had no response from them,” the source added.

Meanwhile, Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) who started calling in sick en masse on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have resumed work following a Wednesday night meeting with Saleem, an air traffic controller who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News.

The ATCs are demanding the reinstatement of a professional grading system, adherence to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the holding of the presidential run-off election that remains suspended by the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, MACL denied the delays from the ATCs calling in sick; however, pilots and Trans Maldivian Airways confirmed some delays due to the protest.

Ahmed Fazeel, Business Development Manager at Trans Maldivian said although seaplanes were operating without any delays today, the company had experienced delays on Wednesday because of “something to do with the air traffic controllers.”

Staff at Maldives Customs Services also stopped work today in protest over corruption and unequal treatment of employees.

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) and Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) last week threatened prolonged strikes over the Supreme Court’s order to delay elections in an ongoing case filed by Jumhooree Party to annul the first round of presidential elections held on September 7.

The two organisations have told Minivan News they are waiting on the Supreme Court verdict to decide how to proceed.