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Travellers were placed on alert for possible industrial action by pilots of the regional airline LIAT, with the financially strapped company warning that its employees were using a “cynical tactic to exploit the fears of the travelling public” particularly over the Easter weekend.
The Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) has been calling on the airline to reinstate two pilots who were dismissed following an incident last October in which one of the company’s new aircraft was damaged.
Earlier this week, LIALPA met with LIAT representatives, Antigua and Barbuda Labour Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin as well as Labour Commissioner Eltonia Rojas and a statement issued afterwards revealed that the government officials were of the view that the two pilots should be reinstated and that LIAT would be reviewing the case.
But the pilots say LIAT has disregarded the advise and in a statement expressed their disappointment with the airline’s decision, calling it “harsh and not in the spirit of good industrial best practices envisaged by the Labour Code of Antigua and Barbuda.”
The pilots are also alleging that LIAT has resorted to “unethical rostering practices” including eliminating crew meal breaks while increasing work hours to compensate for a steadily declining workforce.
The association said these strenuous conditions have resulted in the regional carrier losing 10 per cent of its pilot workforce over the last year.
It also warned the public that the poor working conditions at LIAT, combined with the pilots’ increased stress load, may have a negative impact on the airline’s flight schedule in coming months, citing “inevitable industrial action.”
But LIAT in its respond accused the pilots of threatening industrial action at a time of high travel within the region.
“Threatening industrial action shortly before a public holiday, in this case, the Easter period, is a common, often repeated and cynical tactic employed by LIALPA to exploit the fears of the travelling public,” said the airline’s chief executive officer, David Evans.
“I have had dealings with numerous pilot associations over many years and in many jurisdictions. These dealings have often been tough and uncompromising, but always based on mutual respect and a clear understanding of the needs of the business. This has not been my experience with LIALPA. Unless we can reach a common understanding of LIAT’s current circumstances, LIAT’s future looks bleak.
“We will do everything we can to minimise industrial action over the Easter period, for the sake of the travelling public. If however, there is significant disruption, the resulting financial crunch would mean that salary payments would be further delayed, and the airline would be unable to meet the demands of its creditors. Such a situation would put LIAT in a position of no return, leading to a shutdown of the airline. This would be catastrophic for the entire region and its economies, and or the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of people,” Evans added.
Evans said all of the grievances raised by the pilots are either before the courts or being dealt with in the normal manner.
LIAT maintained that the two pilots were terminated after they blatantly disregarded instructions from the company’s Flight Operations Department and flew an aircraft to V.C. Bird International Airport just hours before the passage of tropical storm Gonzalo.
It said the decision to terminate followed a full internal investigation of the incident during which the pilots were represented.
“The company is quite convinced it acted correctly in this matter, and it is before the courts,” Evans said.