One international airline expert suggested Friday that LIAT’s shareholder governments needed to intervene to bring an end to the potentially devastating strike by the airline’s pilots.
Denver-based airline consultant and airline revenue management strategist Tom Bacon told Barbados TODAY a strike could be “a very bad thing” not only for the travellers, but the region, which is already struggling economically.
Several flights in and out of the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) were either cancelled or delayed, as a strike by LIAT pilots persisted for a third straight day Friday, with their union, the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots’ Association (LIALPA), refusing to back down from its position that its members will not operate the ATR 72 series aircraft over pay issues dating back to 2013.
The airline, which is no stranger to industrial action, has about ten aircrafts, half of which are ATR 72-600.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of a marketing conference at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Caribbean Week in New York last evening, Bacon suggested that Caribbean governments take a page from the book of former US president Bill Clinton, who in 1997 intervened to end a strike by American Airlines (AA) pilots.
“So there may be some kind of a government action that can take place because of the impact, the tremendous impact that something like this can have on a region,” Bacon said.
The former AA employee said although only one type of aircraft was at the centre of the LIAT conflict, the strike still had the potential to have a significant impact on regional travel.
He called on both sides to seek to find common ground, even while stating the pilots must be made to feel they are getting a fair deal.
“Labour is such a huge part of the airline business, we need the pilots on board and feeling like they are compensated properly and that they are treated fairly. That is a goal of LIAT themselves, every airline. It is not just to keep our cost down but to have happy employees, have employees that can really support a very complex operation. So in the end we do need the two to work together, we do need the two to agree on some thing,” Bacon cautioned.
LIALPA has accused LIAT’s management of failing to honour a salary arrangement dating back to January this year. During a meeting in Antigua on Wednesday, the pilots’ union rejected a new proposal by the airline for salary increases with respect to the ATR 72 from July 19, 2017.
LIALPA had also made it clear that it wanted no part of any deferrals for an installment of retroactive ATR pay adjustment dating back to 2013.
Acknowledging that he was not fully aware of the details of the LIAT row, Bacon said government intervention was the best way to prevent the row from dragging on much longer.
“I do not know what that agreement should look like but if the government can play a role and say, ‘let’s get these guys together and help mediate a solution’ and potentially perhaps that is one alternative.
“Two parties coming together is tough, five parties may be impossible. But in the end the pilots, it is in their interest and it is in the company’s interest and so there is a natural force. The airline is not happy not flying those airplanes and the pilots are not happy not flying those airplanes, so there is common ground here, and potentially just making sure that they just sit together at the table, making sure that they both have all the facts, but in the end they will work it out,” said Bacon.
While the government of Antigua and Barbuda – the airline’s second largest shareholder, appealed to the pilots on Thursday to immediately get back to work, Barbadian tourism officials have so far stayed clear of commenting on the matter.