US government shutdown compromises Miami airport operations

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In this file photo taken on June 2, 2016, travelers go through the TSA PreCheck security point at Miami International Airport. (AFP)
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This image shows the passenger area of the Miami International airport Terminal G on January 11, 2018 one day before it closes. (AFP)
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This image shows the passenger area of the Miami International airport Terminal G on January 11, 2018 one day before it closes. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019

US government shutdown compromises Miami airport operations

  • There is no sign of a compromise to end the shutdown so far: Trump is insisting on funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, but opposition Democrats are not budging

MIAMI: The international airport in Miami has been forced to shut down one of its terminals early for three days due to a shortage of security agents sparked by the partial US government shutdown now in its 21st day.
From Saturday through Monday, Terminal G — one of six at the airport — will close at 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
“Flights that were previously scheduled to depart from Concourse G this Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be relocated either to Concourse F or Concourse H,” airport spokesman Greg Chin told AFP.
At issue is a lack of agents from the US Transportation Security Administration, who are seen as “essential” federal workers and hence are still on the job — but without pay until the shutdown ends.
Agents are reportedly staging “sickouts” — calling in sick in a silent protest at their situation. According to The Miami Herald, absenteeism among the Miami airport agents has more than doubled since the shutdown began.
“Right now, there’s approximately some 40 employees that are calling in sick from TSA,” meaning that “this terminal doesn’t have the manpower to accommodate all the passengers,” airport spokesman Jack Varela told AFP.
“The airport, the airlines, TSA, customs we are all doing everything possible to make the passengers happy,” Varela said.
Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the TSA chief in a letter this week that it was “only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts.”
“No employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay,” Thompson said.
With the shutdown soon to drag into its fourth week, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the administration of US President Donald Trump, alleging that members have been “unlawfully” deprived of their wages.
There is no sign of a compromise to end the shutdown so far: Trump is insisting on funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, but opposition Democrats are not budging.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 50 min 35 sec ago

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.