Grantley Adams International Airport is likely to become a mass of chaos and confusion beginning on Thursday as LIAT pilots have threatened to take industrial action if they did not receive their salaries by midnight Wednesday.
President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) Captain Carl Burke said in a statement the planned action, which will take the form of sit-ins at various airports and possible picketing, may run for at least four days.
“All pilots are to report to work as normal. Do sign in to work, do not sign off on any flight documents, do not board any LIAT aircraft and take flight. You are to remain out of view from the travelling public until further instructed by a LIALPA executive council member,” Burke advised the pilots.
He said all pilots, with the exception of those on probation, would participate in the protest.
At issue is the late payment of salaries by LIAT, which has been mired in a financial mess for decades, and with which the pilots have had a volatile relationship.
The issue came to a boil last month with an open exchange of accusations between LIALPA and the airline management, with the airmen calling for the sacking of the entire leadership.
Industrial action was averted at the 11th hour, when a truce was reached at a meeting with the shareholder governments.
Chairman of the shareholder governments, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines had emerged from that meeting held here to announce that the sore point had been resolved.
“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 at the time.
However, it was clear that trouble was not far away as the Vincentian leader suggested that there was no guarantee that the airline would not be late with salaries again in the immediate future.
“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 then.
While it was not clear at the time if the employees had agreed to this, the planned industrial action by the pilots suggest they wanted no part of any deferrals.
“While the company drags this out, the retroactive payment is increasing month by month to a point where they may have to later approach us to ask for some relief or to write off the outstanding monies owed completely,” Burke said in his latest statement.
“The company, since January 2017, remains defiant and has used all reason to evade paying the recently agreed salary/ATR-72 weight pay package. The company has also refused to acknowledge and accept that the association has objected and indeed rejected its proposal to implement a salary deferral programme,” he said.
The unions representing LIAT workers have 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 LIALPA has made it clear it would “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”.