Barbadian and Caribbean passengers travelling on LIAT have been spared the discomfort of lengthy delays and cancellations, as industrial action by the airline’s employees has been averted.
Chairman of the shareholder governments, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuesday evening announced that the latest sore point in the usually acrimonious relationship between the struggling carrier and its staff had been resolved, if only for the time being.
The shareholder governments summoned an urgent meeting Tuesday after tensions flared over the weekend after it emerged that salaries would be paid late.
The unions representing the workers had threatened industrial action if the airline had proceeded with the deferrals.
Gonsalves emerged from the meeting with staff, management, the unions and shareholders at the Hilton Barbados Resort to announce that given the tone of the of the meeting, he would “be very surprised if any form of industrial action was pursued by various unions representing the staff.
“I think that instructions have gone to the bank for the payments, so depends on which bank you are in, some persons would get paid tomorrow or the next day,” he told the waiting media.
However, trouble could still be lurking, with the Vincentian leader suggesting that there was no guarantee that the airline would not be late with salaries again soon.
“The management is not saying that they would be in a position on each occasion over the next three months to pay precisely on time; there may be a couple of days deferral,” Gonsalves said.
It was not immediately clear if the employees had agreed to this, but the unions insisted over the weekend that they had had enough.
In fact, they argued that in 2014 they participated in a salary deferral exercise, which was projected for five months, but lasted 14 months, without any tangible results, while the pilots’ union, the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) went a step further, saying it “will not stand by and watch the airline’s financial health continue to deteriorate at massive levels, to the point where LIAT can’t even pay salaries on time”.
Gonsalves said the issue of salaries was an important one, but there were “several practical questions” that needed to be addressed, “which are of concern to the staff and the travelling public by extension, that we hope immediately to be addressed over the medium term”.
The prime minister also revealed that plans had been drafted for the establishment of a technical committee to formulate a medium term development plan for the struggling airline.
‘What we decided on the way forward is that I would liaise with the president of the Caribbean Development Bank [CDB], who would name someone to draw up terms of reference for a technical committee to study a series of issue affecting operations of LIAT. This would be fed into a task force appointed by the shareholders and that task force would hold consultations with all of the relevant stakeholders . . . . Hopefully we can put together these committees in the week after Easter Monday and there is an outside time of three months for all of this technical and consultative work to be done and the report to be presented to the shareholders,” the Vincentian leader said.
In the meantime, Gonsalves assured that the LIAT management would not be resting on their laurels while the consultative work was being completed, as they have a number of issues pertaining to flight operations and the company’s day-to-day operations to address.
In a press release issued on Sunday LIALPA, possible the most militant of the unions, had called on the shareholder governments to dismiss the airline’s management.
Gonsalves did not address this matter in any detail, limiting his comments to an acknowledgement that those concerns were raised “in robust language”.
“The employees raised a number of issues relating to decisions, which if the employees are correct about those matters, they would require immediate corrective action,” he stressed.