At the end of day one of a crippling pilots’ strike, there’s no word of a settlement to the pay impasse between management of the Antigua-based carrier and the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA).
This means that regional passengers – including those travelling in and out of Barbados – who are booked on LIAT flights this week, must brace themselves for the possibility of more disruption, after hundreds were caught off guard today by flight delays and cancellations.
The two parties to the current impasse held talks at the carrier’s Antigua headquarters today with the airline virtually grounded and pilots refusing to fly the ATR 72 aircraft until an agreement was reached on their previously publicized pay concerns.
The ATR 72 aircraft, which seats 48 passengers, was acquired by LIAT back in 2013 as a part of fleet modernization and overall network improvements.
In a statement this evening, LIAT reported that during today’s meeting, a proposal was tabled by the management which would see the pilots receiving salary increases from July 19, as well as an ATR pay adjustment, retroactive to July 2013.
The carrier had proposed that this amount be paid in three installments by October 2017 while the settlement of other retroactive pay would be made in six installments commencing December 2017.
However, this proposal was rejected by LIALPA, which had earlier made it clear that its members 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,” LIALPA President Carl Burke had warned in a statement last month.
“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.
However, 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.
In light of the impasse, management today reiterated its call for LIAT to be designated as an essential service in Antigua and Barbuda.
“LIAT continues and strives to maintain the critical connections throughout the Caribbean and sincerely apologizes to its valued customers for these disruptions caused by ongoing industrial action. We will continue to keep you informed of developments over the next few days,” the company said in a statement this afternoon in which it also advised that displaced passengers would be allowed to rebook within the next two weeks with all change fees waived.
The financially strapped airline, is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines with Barbados being the largest shareholder with 51 per cent of its shares.
In a statement this evening, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley therefore said it was incumbent on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to show leadership in this matter and to end the “tireless friction that has encumbered the Caribbean’s only significant regional
“This whole LIAT matter is crying out for strong, decisive leadership,” Mottley said in pressing Stuart to take the lead in finding a solution.
“Enough is enough. Firm decisions need to be taken on LIAT. As the representative for the largest shareholder in this airline, the Prime Minister needs to summon a meeting and deal with these ongoing issues that are contributing to consistent complaints of poor service, and have led to repeated disruption of travel across the region. This rot must stop,” Mottley insisted.