WE are equally traumatised and stressed lifting passengers on a Washington chair, complains Zambia Airports Corporation workers.
A Livingstone resident Joseph Moyo has sued the corporation and the South African Airways (SAA) as first and second defendants respectively and is seeking compensation for causing him pain, emotional stress, indignity and violation of his rights by failing to provide equipment for him to board and disembark from an aircraft due to his reduced mobility at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport (HMNIA).
An American woman, Tracy More in a letter dated May 4 to The Mast complained that her dignity was violated when her breasts, torso and buns were touched by HMNIA staff.
“It is the first time I was ever put in such a chair strapped and restrained like a criminal handled by law enforcement officers. They struggled both to strap me and lift me, my breasts were touched, my torso was touched, and my bums were touched. I felt violated, my dignity was lost, I felt I was psychologically raped…I had to close my eyes all the way to the steep staircase to the ground,” complained More.
An elderly British Peter Tomas, with reduced mobility, has also complained of being mishandled at HMNIA and vowed never to disembark from any aircraft at the airport.
“Tells them (ZACL) that they must move with
times. Next time I fly there, I won’t disembark until the right equipment is brought to the aircraft. I don’t care if they have to send me back, I would have made my statement,” said Tomas.
Richard Huss, a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said no human being should fail to travel by air just because an airport lacks suitable equipment for use.
“The use of a chair to physically board or disembark a passenger who is disabled or with reduced mobility is extremely unacceptable, it is negligence, it violates the rights of the passenger to safe boarding or de-boarding with guaranteed dignity. Ground handlers (ZACL) are in violation of international standards and acceptable practices,” said Huss.
But several HMNIA members of staff who spoke on conditions of anonymity for fear of victimisation as management in its defence against Moyo’s legal suit claim that the chair was what wass suitably available, said they were the ones who face complaints from passengers who were not comfortable being strapped to a chair.
“As you write about the plight of the passengers, remember we are equally stressed. Our lives are too traumatised and we have no support from our bosses, they are too comfortable. But we face stress all the time; carrying people who are not happy is not easy,” the workers said.
They added that doing a job that they were not employed for was abuse on the part of the employer.
“We wonder why our union is quiet over this abuse. May be the reason is that we are cheap labour, may be the desired equipment being talked about is too expensive and we are cheap. But please get our voice heard too. We are equally victims, we are equally traumatised and stressed. No one will ever speak for us apart from you at The Mast,” the workers pleaded.
The workers further asked ZACL management to quickly get the ambulift instead of using what was known in aviation as the Washington chair.
“The job we do is a very tough and hard one…we actually never knew there was different equipment to use in other countries. We only learnt of that from passengers we assist each time they question why we use a Washington chair at our airport…. We look so foolish when passengers tell us that they have never been carried like that,” they said. “Its bad for us…as ground handlers, we are equally abused just like the passengers because boarding passengers is not what we were employed to do…we are only supposed to be there on stand-by in case of an emergency,” the said.
The workers added that they were helpless whenever passengers such as Moyo, More, Tomas and others complain.
“We find ourselves helplesss because all we have to work with is the Washington chair,” complained the HMNIA workers.
However, in a 15-point defence to Moyo’s suit, the corporation indicated that it has never failed in any of its duties as it has always met and provided the requested standards of assistance and care of all passengers it handles including those that require assistance.