St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): LIAT pilots are continuing industrial action, despite moves by the regional airline’s management to seek a court injunction against an ongoing strike by members of LIALPA – the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association.

The pilots are refusing to fly LIAT’s ATR 72 series aircraft.

At the heart of the matter for the pilots, is what they describe as management’s failure to honor a salary package arrangement agreed on in January 2017.

LIALPA had warned of strike action if the airline did not activate the arrangement by June 1, and made good on that threat this week.

The airline’s management has sought a court injunction to end the industrial action.

LIALPA President, Captain Carl Burke says they are responding to that move.

“Well our attorney right now is preparing a response, we have been served with the document filed at the end of the lower court applying for that injunction….”

Senior Counsel, Dominican Attorney Anthony Astaphan in an invited comment on the LIAT situation, has suggested that the pilots industrial action could be considered illegal by the court.

“There is a peculiar position, I was told in court yesterday in Antigua by a lawyer that once a matter is impending in the industrial court any form of industrial action is illegal and my understanding is that unless these negotiations end up with a consent order, or order of the industrial court,  the matter is still in fact pending before the industrial court.”

WINN FM asked if Mr. Astaphan if he is suggesting that LIALPA could be held in contempt of court because they have taken industrial action.

“Well I hope not, as I indicated I was told by a lawyer who has experience in the industrial court in Antigua yesterday where I am now, that that might be the case, but I have not discussed it with Justin Simon or Carl Burke so I don’t know whether that in fact that is the case. I’m assuming that if it is that at least the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda will be addressing this, but I think the more critical issue for all of us is when will these issues end.”

Attorney Justin Simon, mentioned by Mr Astaphan, is LIALPA’s lawyer.

Captain Burke in defending the strike action says the pilots flying the ATR planes are professionals charged with great responsibility, and that should be recognized in the kind of payment they receive.

Burke says while the pilots are aware of the airline’s financial situation, they deserve to be properly compensated.

“The pilots have made it clear time and time again that the managers of LIAT are responsible for the company’s current financial position. The pilots take on a lot of responsibility in terms of the service they provide to the airline and additionally they are the only staff base that have received additional responsibility with the introduction of the ATR 72 aircraft. Pilots are exposed everyday to liability, the captain is responsible for everything on a flight, there is more to it than meets the eye. You are responsible for every single passenger on board it’s not a matter of moving from 50 passengers to 68 passengers, you could be fined, you could even end up in jail if one of these passengers die while you are in command of the aircraft, it is a lot of responsibility. What the LIAT pilots are asking for is nowhere, not even in the ballpark, as I explained to Jean Holder, near what the other ATR pilots in the region are making.”

Attorney Astaphan is hoping that management and the pilots will be able to iron out their differences in the interest of the survival of the struggling LIAT.

“When will management and pilots reach a situation where they both understand the sensitivities of each other and the very precarious condition because as you know I speak regularly with Prime Minister Browne, Skerrit and Gonsalves, the very precarious financial situation of LIAT and all of these incidences impact significantly the ability of LIAT to generate revenue and meet its debt, but I think more importantly it is like the citizens who fly on LIAT and choose LIAT out of a sense of Caribbean loyalty and patriotism sometimes feel as if they are hostages in a struggle between two parties.” 

The LIAT situation was discussed on Good Morning Caribbean, the Friday morning (June 9) link-up between Observer Radio in Antigua and WINN FM.

Observer Radio’s Darren Mathew Ward posed this question to the LIALPA president.

LIAT passengers are meanwhile continuing to experience flight cancellations and delays because of the industrial action. 


Ken Richards
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