NO THREAT TO EASTER TRAVEL
THERE is some uncertainty about the reliability of regional air travel during the coming Easter weekend, one of the busiest periods of the year.
LIAT claims that its pilots are threatening industrial action, but the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) has issued a denial.
However, THE VOICE has learned that some of the pilots employed with the airline are for undertaking industrial action, while others are against the idea and some are undecided.
The two bodies are at loggerheads over several issues including the dismissal by the airline of two pilots, pay rates for the heavier ATR-72 aircraft the company has purchased, crew rostering, loss of pilots, the renewal of the airline’s fleet renewal, among other things.
The LIALPA yesterday denied making any suggestions that it threatened industrial action so as to disrupt regional travel come next week.
“No industrial action has been planned or suggested at this moment by LILAPA, contrary to what LIAT has suggested,” Chairman of LIALPA, Patterson Thompson told THE VOICE Friday.
His denial was in response to a statement by LIAT that this was a tactic employed by the pilots association usually before a holiday.
LIALPA last week highlighted the core of the issues causing industrial problems in the airline. LIAT says that LIALPA’s statement was “highly suggestive of the threat of industrial action”.
“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,” LIAT statement read in part.
However, Thompson said that if there is any instability in the region’s travel market at the moment then LIAT is the one to be blamed.
“If anyone has placed any instability in the market it is LIAT,” Thompson said, referring to the statement by LIAT.
“The statement we released did not in any way threaten any industrial action as noted by LIAT,” Thompson added.
The uncertainty of industrial action by the airline’s pilots and the likely disruption in air travel that could follow are already causing anxiety across the region among the travelling public and businesses that depend on the airline for their survival.
The situation is even grimmer should industrial action take place, noted the airline’s Chief Executive Officer, David Evans.
“…Unless we can reach a common understanding of LIAT’s current circumstances, LIAT’s future looks bleak. We will do everything we can to minimize 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 the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of people,” Evans said.
Monday will be a crucial day for both LIAT and LIALPA as both sides are scheduled to meet for talks in an attempt to once again reach an amicable settlement in resolving their industrial problems.
A major sticking point in the discussions is the description given to a fund that was set up as was agreed by the two parties in their collective agreement. Thompson says that the contract LIALPA has with LIAT speaks of a Provident Fund and not a Pension Fund, which is the name LIAT chooses to use in its description of the fund.
“Our contract speaks to a Provident Fund and not a Pension Fund. This point is further reinforced in the Inniss Arbitration where it states that “in the interim the Company shall maintain a provident fund into which it shall pay the sum of…” Thompson said, adding that his association had not given permission for pension deductions.
LIAT however is saying that deductions from the fund are neither illegal nor unauthorized, and that the courts held that in the management of the (pension) fund it was acting in the best interest of its employees.