Several flights in and out of the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) were either cancelled or delayed Thursday afternoon, as a strike by pilots employed by regional carrier LIAT persisted for a second straight day with one shareholder government branding the action “unreasonable”.
At the start of the day, it looked as if the carrier’s operations were back on track following Tuesday’s system-wide disruptions, with GAIA flights operating on schedule on Thursday morning.
However, by 6 p.m. the carrier reported that four flights out of Barbados – including two to Trinidad, one to Guyana and another to Tortola – had to cancelled, while others were delayed, leaves scores of passengers stranded.
At issue is pay and members of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots’ Association (LIALPA) are refusing to operate the airline’s ATR 72 series aircraft.
Late Thursday evening, LIAT’s Corporate Communications Manager Shavar Maloney warned that more cancellations were expected tonight and into Friday, even as the government of Antigua and Barbuda – the airline’s second largest shareholder after Barbados, which has 51 per cent ownership – appealed to the pilots to immediately get back to work.
While describing the protests as “unreasonable”, the Gaston Browne-led administration warned that the current strike would ultimately harm the people of the Caribbean and “undermine the probabilities of attracting more governments to share the burdens of providing for our own air links.
“Its destruction, fueled by unreasonable demands, can benefit no one,” the government said, while calling on the pilots to immediately return to work and to continue the negotiations leading to their payment in full “of the amounts agreed-to, in a mutually satisfying period”.
However, LIALPA have accused LIAT management of failing to honour a salary arrangement agreed to back in January 2017. And during a meeting in St John’s Wednesday, the pilots’ union rejected a new proposal tabled by management that would see its members receiving salary increases with respect to the ATR 72 from July 19, 2017.
LIAT has also proposed to make a retroactive ATR pay adjustment, dating back to 2013, in three installments commencing in December 2017.
However, LIAPA 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 at the time.
LIALPA has further argued that in 2014 it participated in a salary deferral exercise, which was projected for five months, but lasted 14 months, without any tangible results.