Security officers of the Estate Police Association (EPA) are concerned that they will be made scapegoats if security at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad and the A.N.R Robinson International Airport in Tobago is compromised.
Apart from a manpower shortage and being overworked, they point to situations outside their control where they're stretched to maintain the security integrity at the airports.
The most recent example, they pointed out, was last week's welcome home ceremony at Piarco for Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott.
They pointed out that despite police reports that the situation was managed, there was a serious traffic gridlock getting into and out of the airport.
"People had to walk to the airport to get their flights. The car park was full and people were parked along the roadway which they are not supposed to do," one officer pointed out.
He said that the ratio of security officers to people was disproportionate, leaving the airport vulnerable.
"Trinidad and Tobago is a transshipment hub. Anything could have been dropped in the bins at the airport. There is no airport in the world which allows these types of celebrations," a security source told the Express.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her address to the nation on August 12, had invited citizens to wear red and go to Piarco to welcome Walcott. She had also declared Monday August 13 a public holiday for the celebrations.
The Sunday Express yesterday reported on the vulnerable state of airport security at the country's airports with the problem existing for the past ten years but becoming worse in recent months. The situation was also confirmed in an audit conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which itself was recently audited by the US-based Federal Aviation Authority.
An EPA team — which included second vice-president Emmanuel Henry, vice president of the local branch,Vedesh Bhagwan-deen, and Robert Ottley, yesterday sought to explain their position on the situation and defended the service provided by their organisation to the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT).
"There are guidelines by the International Civil Aviation Organisation which the EPA must abide. It warns about overworked officers that are an additional cost to the organisation. If something happened at that airport the fingers would be pointed at the security and not the red flags which have been raised," said Henry.
The EPA, they said, has a 30-year track record of quality service but was now strained by the salary negotiations with AATT.
They were hesitant to talk about the on-going situation with the AATT because they claimed that the last time the situation with their salaries was made public in the media, they were asked by AATT to pay rent for a space, which had been given to them to use freely for the past ten years.
They have linked the receipt of the letter to their speaking out to the media on the matter and alleged discrimination on the part of the AATT. The Express has a copy of that letter dated May 16, which explained that AATT was now commercialising the South Terminal and the EPA would be offered a contract if they were interested in the space and if they were not, they would have to vacate the premises within a month's time.
The EPA has been contesting the AATT's decision to offer contracts to 80 per cent of its membership in lieu of the proposed salary adjustments offered by Pricewaterhousecoopers in their job evaluation exercise.
Henry noted that the exercise was conducted because of the exodus of staff at the EPA and it was designed to make salaries for officers equitable and competitive. He said the AATT has since veered away from that as it related to security officers but had increased managers salaries by 100 per cent.
"We have officers who work many overtime shifts to make sure the flights are met on time but they are not working at modern day compensation packages," said Henry.
"Every day, prohibited items such as ammunition are confiscated from people. If our officers are not alert, we will miss that," he said.
Bhagwandeen explained that all the EPA wanted was for the AATT to implement the recommendations of the job evaluation exercise, which was conducted.
"It would cost the AATT less to implement those recommendation rather than to source new staff or continuing paying the overtime which they have been doing for years," said Bhagwandeen.
And according to Henry, "If the management of the AATT had the best interest of the airport at heart, they would deal with these situations which have been brought to their attention. We are not the support staff. We are the main staff at the airport."