Standby firefighters at Providenciales International Airport walked off the job on Saturday without prior notice.
This caused the airport to close to departing and arriving flights. As this is the second such unexpected closure of the airport, there could be long term ramifications for the tourist industry and the general economy of the TCI.
When the word of the strike reached the public on Saturday, the story was that the firefighters, who were scheduled to be transferred to the Turks and Caicos Islands Airports Authority (TCIAA) under CEO John Smith, were taking issue with that move, saying they wished to remain in the civil service.
TCI government chief executive officer, Patrick Boyle, put out a press release stating his understanding of the issues. According to Boyle, the firefighters want to be declared redundant (which they are not). This, also according to Boyle, would yield them a separation package amounting to $3 million. Further, Boyle said, after leaving the government as civil servants with the proceeds of their severance pay, they would then be willing to be re-employed under the TCIAA.
Currently, there are adequate emergency facilities to keep light commercial planes in the air and the government is taking action to bring replacement staff in from South Caicos so normal commercial flights can resume. Boyle also said he will agree to retain the fire fighters on the government civil service payroll.
There have been widespread rumours of an impending protest for weeks but what course it would take was not known. It is unclear if Dr Rufus Ewing, who heads the Civil Service Association and who instigated the previous civil service walkouts, was behind this shutdown. Ewing was also a participant in the airport road protest, which temporarily closed the airport last year.