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Dear editor: If Caribbean Airlines wants bailout, it should provide transparency in return

“[…] As a publicly owned company which has sought and been granted a bailout in the form of a loan facility by the government this week—and by extension the taxpayers of this country—has proper justification been provided for our support of this airline to the tune of US$65 million, especially in these challenging financial times?”

In the following letter to the editor, Anthony Gafoor criticises Caribbean Airlines for its supposed failure to be transparent in handling complaints from the public, even as it requests financial bailout from taxpayers:

Photo: A Caribbean Airlines advert.
(via CAL)

As a fundamental principle, our publicly funded institutions are required to operate transparently and to be accountable to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. However this is not the case with Caribbean Airlines.

As a publicly owned company which has sought and been granted a bailout in the form of a loan facility by the government this week—and by extension the taxpayers of this country—has proper justification been provided for our support of this airline to the tune of US$65 million, especially in these challenging financial times? How was this figure arrived at?

Moreover, if one has a dispute or complaint against the airline, it literally investigates itself and claims that such complaints will be used to guide its staff. The hapless passenger is left without any redress save to take legal proceedings, which are both costly and time consuming.

Contrast this with other airlines that operate in the Caribbean like British Airways, which uses an independent third party, mediation and other neutral forms of dispute settlement so as to ensure impartiality and objectivity.

The British Airways website states that: “If you are unhappy with our response to your complaint, you can refer your complaint to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), who are approved by the Civil Aviation Authority to provide an independent resolution service for complaints about airlines. You will need to refer your complaint to them within 12 months. 

“CEDR will be able to advise you if your complaint falls within the scope of what they can deal with. Alternatively, you may use the European Commission’s online dispute resolution platform to submit your complaint.”

Photo: British Airways Cabin Crew member Amy Saltmarsh at London Heathrow on 25 November 2014.
(Copyright Nick Morrish/British Airways)

American Airlines offers a complaint board online whereby both positive and negative reviews can be posted. Its website assures passengers that those responsible for resolving complaints have some 16 years’ experience in successful complaint resolution and each complaint is handled individually for free. There is therefore transparency in how such matters are handled.

Moreover, a passenger is reminded to also file a complaint with the Department of Transport, which at least provides some reassurance that a governmental agency  will be aware of and consider the complaint separate and apart from the airline itself.

Compare this with Caribbean Airlines which requires you to submit any complaint in writing only through its website and does not enable a copy to be retained by the complainant unless uploaded as a separate document. No assurance is given as to the timeline for resolution or the person who will deal with the complaint and their expertise. Instead, matters are handled behind a cloak of secrecy at the end of which the passenger is merely ‘thanked’ for bringing matters to the airline’s attention and told that such complaints will be used to guide staff in future.

In effect, we have no assurance that any complaint will be acted upon and compensation offered for any inconvenience or ill-treatment suffered by passengers.

In seeking this further tranche of funding from the people of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean Airlines continues to be a burden on the state, even taking into account the challenging issues brought about due to the closure of the country’s borders.

Photo: The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the airline industry.

It is time for the airline to truly earn its keep as a viable commercial entity which operates transparently and can live up to its claim of complying with the highest international standards and best practice within the airline industry.

It is no longer sufficient to expect the people of this country to support the airline out of some vague sense of national pride.

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  1. I am commenting on this article in regards to the investigation into the Administration and Operations of Caribbean Airlines Limited, conducted by the Joint Select Committee for State Enterprises. It highlighted issues that needed to be addressed and made public; and is very much still relevant today as CAL has just recieved millions in taxpayer money for a bailout. Now more than ever, we need transparency in State Enterprises such as CAL and Paria Fuel.

    I recently submitted a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission in regards to a recent interview I attended with Caribbean Airlines on March 06, 2020 for the position of Ground Operations Coordinator (Tobago).

    Dr. Eric Williams said “Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in the public service, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong.”

    President Barack Obama, while delivering his eulogy at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service, reminded the World of what Mandela said at his 1964 trial. “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

    These are three men who would be remembered as being titans of progress, industry and equality for all. The work the EOC is doing is just an extension of the values and principles these great leaders fought for and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be heard. However, I do have concerns as my complaint involves a state enterprise and both the EOC and CAL are Governmental Agencies. Anyone who can advise need only respond to this comment.

    In its investigation the Joint Select Committee noted the burden that servicing the domestic air bridge has placed on CAL’s profitability. The Committee noted that CAL’s human resource focus is skewed towards pilots and management. The Committee noted that several positions in the organisational structure are filled by individuals who do not possess the required qualifications. The Committee noted that CAL has made efforts to recruit foreign pilots, despite the oversupply of local pilots.

    There was also concern that the recent recruitment and selection process engaged by CAL to recruit persons to its Management Team did not adhere to proper and established procedure.

    The role of Ground Operations Coordinator Tobago is vital to ensure the highest standards of service, safety and security are provided to Trinidad and Tobago Air Bridge Customers. The Air Bridge is crucial to our economy.

    The interview was held in Tobago which required that I purchase a flight to Tobago and stay overnight at a hotel just to attend the interview as there were no available flights on March 06, 2020. This cost more that TT$1,000 for flights, accommodation, food and miscellaneous expense. There were four members on the interview panel. I was told I would receive feedback about the interview but no one communicated with me. The post for Ground Operations Coordinator was again being advertised again on Caribbean Airlines’ website and I was told by CAL HR, that I was no longer being considered.

    During the interview, I was asked questions which I believed to be inappropriate, which resulted in unfair bias against me by the interview panel. The statements made by a member of the interviewing panel were humiliating, offensive and very intimidatory.

    During the interview one of the members of the interview panel made statement that were false and humiliating which produced a bias against me to the other members on the interview panel. Based on the job description, I met the necessary requirements for the role of Ground Operations Coordinator, see job description in link included in this email:

    https://careers.caribbean-airlines.com/#/view_vacancy/223

    I have a Bachelors Degree in Airway Science, extensive experience in Airport Ground Handling Operations and I was previously trained by Caribbean Airlines in Ground Handling for the ATR and B737 Aircraft.

    I lodged my complaint against Caribbean Airlines based on the following Equal Opportunity Act Sections 7 and 8:

    Section 7 – Offensive Behavior:

    Section 7. (1) Aperson shall not otherwise than in private, do any act which— (a) is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of persons; (b) is done because of the gender, race, ethnicity, origin or religion of the other person or of some or all of the persons in the group; and (c) which is done with the intention of inciting gender, racial or religious hatred.

    (2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it— (a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; (b) is done in a public place; (c) is done in the sight and hearing of persons who are in a public place. (3) This section does not apply to acts committed in a place of public worship. (4) In this section— “public place” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.

    First and foremost, the allegations made about me by the member of the interviewing panel, who is an employee of Caribbean Airlines, meets the requirements of Subsection A) as it was designed to humiliate me and intimidate me during the already stressful conditions of a job interview. In Creek v Cairns Post Pty Ltd [2001] FCA 1007, Kiefel held that the act in question must have ‘profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights.’ The statement made during the interview forced me to revisit and relive events in my past that resulted in severe physical, emotional and mental trauma. This affected my ability to respond during the interview.

    In Nelson v Mathieson (2003) 143 A Crim R 148 (at 152-153 [17]) Nathan said: “It is no longer necessary for the Crown to prove that the offender intended to be offensive, but it is still a requirement that the conduct has the effect of wounding the feelings, arousing anger, resentment, disgust or outrage in the mind of the reasonable person who may have or could have viewed, or been the object of that conduct. In my view, the words should be interpreted eiusdem generis (of or as the same kind of words). Wounded feelings, anger, resentment, disgust, outrage, all denote immediate and strong emotions or reactions. A reaction to conflict which is merely indifferent or at its highest anguished, is not the same as being offended.” The element of intent has to be established in order to make a feasible case for offensive behaviour. The test to be applied is an objective one and there must be evidence that the conduct was meticulous and was done in an effort to disrupt the comfort of another person. The allegation made against me by the member of CAL’s interview panel was meticulous and its purpose was to disrupt my comfort and affect my confidence during the interview. It was malicious in nature and aimed at producing feelings of anger and resentment against me.

    In the case of Daire v Stone (1991) 56 SASR 90, Legoe stated that the onus is on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that, “there is a conscious and deliberate course of conduct by the accused person which constitutes the interference with the comfort of other people such as to leave the tribunal of fact with no reasonable doubt that the conduct of the accused person was intentionally done to bring about such an interference.” The allegations made against me by the member of CAL’s Interview panel was delivered expressly to interfere with my responses and performance, create bias against me with the other members of the interview panel and result in a negative outcome against me.

    As to whether the false allegation made against me was racially motivated or made to incite racial hatred against me, is open to interpretation and CAL must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of its representative were not racially motivated. I am of East Indian descent and the allegation was made by a member of the interview panel of African descent. In fact three out of the four members of the interview panel were of African descent, so this attack on my character could have been racially motivated. How many candidates for the role of Ground Operations Coordinator were of East Indian descent and how many were African? CAL has not been willing to provide this information or even release the names of the members of the interview panel.

    As to the “offensive behaviour” occuring in a “public place” or “otherwise than in private”; interviews are not subject to privacy laws. In fact, interviews are openly discussed with senior management, middle management and other employees and even outsiders. I did not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and neither did the members of the interview panel, so privacy and rights to privacy and confidentiality are not guaranteed and according to the law cannot be assumed. This must be taken into account. The interview took place at the ANR Robinson International Airport, which by all definitions, is a public place.

    Also, under the Equal Opportunity Act: Discrimination against Applicants

    DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT 8. An employer or a prospective employer shall not discriminate against a person—

    (a) in the arrangements he makes for the purpose of determining who should be offered employment;

    (b) in the terms or conditions on which employment is offered; or

    (c) by refusing or deliberately omitting to offer employment.

    In regards to A); Was I the only applicant from Trinidad interviewed? Were other applicants from Trinidad interviewed on the same day as my interview? Did the other applicants from Trinidad have to travel to Tobago to be interviewed? Was any applicants interviewed in Trinidad? Two of the applicants interviewed, whom I spoke with while waiting to be interviewed were of African descent, female and from Tobago.

    In regards to C) CAL refused and deliberately omitted to offer employment to me even though I met all the requirements for the role, had the qualifications and education requirements, supervisory and negotiating skills, ground handling training and experience.

    I wish to highlight that nothing has changed in CAL’s hiring process in the period after the Joint Select Committee investigation and report. Remember, CAL is a State Owned Enterprise and funded by Taxpayers and just received a multi-million dollar bailout. The Joint Select Committee on State Enterprises and the public must be informed that CAL would rather spend more taxpayer dollars on readvertising, reposting and repeating the process of conducting interviews, for a position that could have been filled by a qualified candidate. This does not look good for CAL, its HR Department and HR Leadership.