THE LIAT PILOTS AFFAIR Citizens and residents of the Federation do a considerable amount of flying both regionally and internationally, and when a regional problem comes to the fore it affects us as much as it does anyone else. A case in point is the recent WINAIR affair which ended amicably for all concerned. Now LIAT has some serious concerns which could portend more inconvenience for travellers if not dealt with forthrightly. Following last week’s ‘sick out” by several LIAT pilots, which wreaked havoc on unsuspecting passengers, it appears trouble for the regional airline has only just begun. Immediately after the industrial action by members of the Leeward Islands Airlines Line Pilots Association, LIAT (1974) Limited secured a legal injunction against the pilots preventing them from continuing the alleged strike. The Industrial Court in Antigua and Barbuda issued the order on May 22, barring LIAT pilots from taking or continuing any form of industrial action against the airline. It was reported that the Order, signed by members of the Industrial Court, granted the pilots the “liberty to apply upon the filing of any application and in this regard the Applicant shall be given 14 days notice of such application”. The pilots reluctantly returned to worked shortly thereafter, vowing to see the matter through. It was indicated that the pilots had planned the sickout after contract and salary negotiations between them and LIAT seemed dead in the water. It was also claimed that certain LIAT executives recently received large salary bonuses while some pilots had not had their salaries increased in as many as 12 years. LIAT officials countered the claims and chastised the LIALPA for making the accusations and state of the negations public. “LIAT has been continuing negotiations with the pilots as we have with all the other groups of employees. We have met with LIALPA on a number of occasions to negotiate a collective agreement. Some of the matters being negotiated are before the attorney general of Antigua and Barbuda for his intervention. While the company plans to issue a full statement in the coming days, we must respond immediately to the suggestion that the LIAT board of directors has considered or is considering “AIG-type”management bonuses. “LIAT would like to categorically deny this. It is an absolutely false and malicious statement by LIALPA in this unstable economic and financial climate,”an airline press statement read. However, injunction notwithstanding, the LIAT pilots refuse to concede, threatening to take their issues before the High Court and have the legal order thrown out. Reports indicate that LIALPA has retained the services of prominent Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham, who is at present on the commission of inquiry in Nevis, to guide the pilots through the legalities. Cheltenham had advised the LIALPA during their late 2008 contentions with LIAT. Captain Michael Blackburn, chairman of the association had said then that LIAT pilots were “possibly the lowest paid pilots in the developing world”and the airline repaid their hard work and dedication with “ingratitude, belligerence, stalling, indignity, embarrassment and delay tactics”. Let us hope for a speedy resolution.
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