Jamaican workers protest sale of Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
February 3,
2010
to
February 19,
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Jamaica
Location City/State/Province: 
Kingston and Montego Bay
Goals: 
The goal of the protests was to prevent the sale of Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines, a non-Jamaican business.
 

In January 2010, it became clear that the Jamaican government sought to sell Air Jamaica to a foreign company. The government and the owners of Air Jamaica saw the company as losing a lot of money and, due to heavy subsidizing, the government had a great deal of power over the future of the airline. Some reports suggest that Air Jamaica was losing more than USD $90 million per year and was already USD $900 million in debt. However, Air Jamaica employed over 1,600 Jamaicans. Fearing for the loss of their jobs and the potential damage that could be done to the country with loss of tourism revenue, employees and some members of the tourism industry in Jamaica began to protest in order to dissuade the company owners from following through with the sale.

On February 3, Granville Valentine, the vice-president of the National Workers Union (of which many of the airline employees were members), announced that the union members would strike indefinitely unless the government terminated plans for the sale of Air Jamaica. At this point, it was clear the government heavily favored an offer by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines and that the final agreement would likely occur soon, even if the official sale would not take place for months. The protesters also sent a letter to the prime minister of Trinidad requesting that he cease negotiations for the airline—he never answered.

Simultaneously, pilots for Jamaica Air created a coalition (called Jamaica Airline Pilots Association or JALPA) to enter a bid to the government to purchase the airline. JALPA submitted their bid, but did so after Caribbean Airlines already had. The government did not respond to JALPA for some time.

After the government and the owners ignored the employees for several days, Valentine put the protest into action. On February 8, protesters began with the picketing of the airline’s headquarters in Kingston during the workers’ lunch break. That night, informal commercial importers (a group with some economic leverage in the country) joined the protesters. They cited fears that they would have a more difficult time importing goods if the government sold Air Jamaica. For several days, the protests continued in Kingston with workers holding signs calling the government “sell-outs” and voicing their disapproval of the deal. Some protesters also marched around the downtown area. Although police were present, the protests remained peaceful, which Valentine claimed as one of his goals, and did not interrupt service for Air Jamaica. The protesters promised to increase the pressure if the government continued to ignore them.

On February 11, the government officially rejected JALPA’s bid saying JALPA had submitted it too late and that the government could not accommodate it. The next day, Air Jamaica employees in Montego Bay started a three-hour strike and sit-in during the mid-morning as a response to the rejection, but did not announce their intentions before beginning the strike. Consequently, several flights experienced substantial delays, customers expressed extreme dissatisfaction, and the strikers finally got the attention of the company owners and government.

After the end of the first day of strikes, Valentine announced the intention of the workers to continue similar actions until the government recognized JALPA’s bid. Later that day, the CEO and president of Air Jamaica responded by appealing to the workers not to disrupt operations in the future. He claimed that the strike that day had already lost the company a substantial amount of business and that further actions would only be more damaging to Air Jamaica and make selling the company more appealing. Despite this appeal, Valentine said that the workers intended to continue their strike.

After continuing the three-hour strike for several days and expanding it to Kingston, the government outlined on February 18 exactly why it would not consider JALPA’s bid, calling it “fundamentally flawed.” The government representative cited JALPA’s inability to secure adequate funding to cover the costs of the airline and a faulty business plan that offered no clear model for how they could meet their operational needs, let alone profit, in the future. Among other things, the representative pointed out that JALPA’s plan would require downsizing the company and firing a number of employees that would still have jobs if Caribbean Airlines purchased Jamaica Air.

Although Valentine claimed that protests would continue for a workers’ owned Air Jamaica, the loss of JALPA’s bid to retain Air Jamaica as a Jamaican-owned company signaled the end of the campaign. With no other viable plan, the protesters accepted that the government would sell Air Jamaica and, by February 19, protests stopped.

While protests would begin again in early March as Air Jamaica employees tried to negotiate better terms for their acquisition, there were no longer protests to prevent the sale of Air Jamaica. On May 1, 2010, Caribbean Airlines officially bought Air Jamaica.

Research Notes
Sources: 
“Air JA workers back on the job.” Radio Jamaica. February 12, 2010. Accessed from TheBigEye News. http://www.bigeyenews.com/main.php?page=today&id=1021.

“Air Jamaica Airline Workers threaten indefinite strike.” Lonely Planet. February 3, 2010. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1872986.

“Air Jamaica pilots bid heading for collapse.” The Gleaner (Jamaica). February 19, 2010. Accessed from Caribseek. http://news.caribseek.com/set-up/exec/view.cgi?archive=174&num=84837.

“Air Jamaica workers continue protest action.” Go-Jamaica. February 12, 2010. http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=16822.

“Air Jamaica workers protest.” Go-Jamaica. February 8, 2010. Accessed from JamaicanForum. http://www.jamaicanforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/21131-air-jamaica-workers-protest/.

“Air Jamaica workers withdraw services, passengers stranded.” Travel Guide Advice. February 17, 2010. http://travelguideadvice.com/air-jamaica-workers-withdraw-services-passengers-stranded-lucea-215660.html.

“Air Jamaica workers stage protest.” IRIE FM News. February 8, 2010. http://iriefm.net/index.php/home/news/3635.

Cummings, Mark. “Strike slows Air J’s operations.” Jamaica Observer. February 12,2010. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/AIR-J-lockdown---feb-12_7411048.

Hall, Arthur. “Pilots too late – Shaw says Air Jamaica’s bid not even on radar.” The Gleaner (Jamaica). February 4, 2010. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100204/business/business1.html.

“ICIs join Air Jamaica protest.” Go-Jamaica. February 8, 2010. http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=16706.

“Jamaica: Air Jamaica workers intensify protest action.” Caribbean Daily News. February 12, 2010. http://www.caribbeandailynews.com/jamaica-air-jamaica-workers-intensify-protest-action/.

“Jamaica Airline – Workers gear for protest action.” Antigua Observer. February 8, 2010. http://upgraded.antiguaobserver.com/?p=23799.

“Jamaican airline workers intensify protest action.” Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency. February 12, 2010. Accessed from NewsBank.

“Jamaican airline workers plan protest action.” Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency. February 8, 2010. Accessed from NewsBank.

Reid, Authnel. “Hoteliers should support Air Jamaica bid.” The Gleaner (Jamaica). February 2, 2010. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100202/letters/letters10.html.

“Workers, ICIs protest planned Air J sale to Trinidad.” Jamaica Observer. February 9, 2010. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Air-jamaica-TUE_7401174.

Additional Notes: 
From early January to May 2010, Air Jamaica workers were almost constantly involved in strikes or protests over the sale of the airline to Caribbean airlines. Consequently, it was difficult to differentiate this specific case from others because they were all held in a similar time frame. However, I differentiated this case based on the goal (preventing the sale of the airline to a non-Jamaican company) as most subsequent protests were aimed at smaller, more specific goals that would ease the transition to the new company. Thus, this seemed a naturally stopping place as it implied a fundamental shift in the campaign to the assumption that the sale of the company was inevitable and the previous goal no longer was applicable.

Edited by M.R. (19/05/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Matthew Heck, 23/12/2010