A decision by regional airline LIAT to relocate six of its key staff from Antigua to Barbados is causing some turbulence.
But the chairman of the carrier’s group of shareholder governments, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, dismissed the rumblings as “narrow nationalism or chauvinism”, saying LIAT was a regional enterprise.
The company’s management wants to move the half dozen people here to complete the key commercial department, a shift CEO Ian Brunton said was overdue and was currently being discussed with the workers and their trade union representatives.
The issue came up today when Gonsalves, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and other officials spoke to the media after a shareholder meeting at Hilton Barbados.
LIAT current has 827 employees, 560 of them based in Antigua, which is also the location of the airline’s headquarters. Brunton said his company was moving “the last bits of the commercial department that we require to be in Barbados because this is where the commercial department is”.
“It is just a natural business decision to have to move the six people, who are part of the most critical nature of our business of trying to manage our revenue. It is really the management of the inventory, the management of our seats and pricing, it’s a highly technical thing,” he explained.
“We have good people doing it, but it can be done better if they are integrated properly into all the other functions … in a dynamic way, minute by minute almost, making sure that every customer who comes may get the maximum that that customer is willing to pay. And that kind of science can’t be done with the geographical isolation that we have at the moment.
“So those six people have to come down to Barbados. That’s we are trying to do, we have worked with the unions, we have talked to the individuals and they have a choice; if they do not want to leave then we will have other arrangements. Whether at the end of the day it will be redundancy I don’t know,” he added. Gonsalves was more forthright in his response to the controversy and warned against “narrow nationalism” being “infused into this regional enterprise”.
“You have 827 people and you have 560 in Antigua so the bulk of them are in Antigua. Nobody begrudges Antigua for having the bulk of them, … but if we have to make the enterprise more efficient, to move six positions, where commercial and marketing is much better done here in Barbados, really what are we having on the airwaves in Antigua and the Press with this thing that you are moving two departments and that this is the thin edge of the wedge?” he asked.
“And everybody gets very riled up about this thing. I don’t know if … these persons who fill these positions have some special place in Antiguan society and therefore can mobilise the media, can mobilise everybody, or there is something inherent in all our small islands that as soon as the thing comes about Barbados wants to take departments. It doesn’t happen like that.
“So let us put this thing to rest … please. For heaven’s sake, let us try to avoid stoking chauvinist or nationalist fires, it’s not worth it,” he urged. (SC)