ST. JOHN’S: Prime Minister Gaston Browne will meet with officials from the regional airline LIAT and the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) early next year on issues facing the carrier.
A government statement released on Monday said that Browne met with the officials over the weekend “following public concern as to a possible breakdown of regional air services over the Christmas period”.
It said the meetings were aimed at “promoting resolution to a number of the issues presently confronting relations” between LIAT and LIALPA.
The meeting was also attended by Attorney General and Minister of Labour, Steadroy Benjamin and other senior legal and civil aviation officials.
Earlier this month, LIAT rejected claims by the union that it acted illegally in respect of court orders and appealed to its pilots not to take industrial action as being planned for later this month.
“These matters are before the court. In an injunction taken out by LIALPA earlier this year, the court did not grant a restraint order against the company and concluded that the company was entitled to act in the way it did for the benefit and protection of all its employee groups,” said the airline’s chief executive officer, David Evans.
The pilots had threatened to take industrial action if the airline failed to meet their demands by December 10.
The pilots say a continued deferral of salaries, the recent dismissal of two of their colleagues and other longstanding issues are among the main grievances they want addressed by the company.
They also want the implementation of a 2010 arbitration tribunal award and a new contract to fly the ATR aircraft being operated by LIAT.
LIALPA is also calling for an independent investigation into LIAT’s dismissal of the two pilots for damaging an aircraft during the passage of Tropical Storm Gonzalo in October.
Antigua & Barbuda, along with Dominica, Barbados and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, are the shareholder governments of the financially troubled airline.
During last weekend’s meeting, Browne emphasized the importance of LIAT to the regional economy. He called on all parties to take good faith measures to ensure that there would not be any unnecessary disruption to flights during the Christmas and New Year holiday period, while acknowledging the challenges that plague the regional airline industry, especially LIAT.
The statement said that management and unions have “pledged their commitment to amicably resolving the present industrial relations problems and in particular to ensuring that there would not be any disruptions to services over the upcoming holiday period”.
It said the meeting discussed a number of recommendations put forward by Browne for addressing current outstanding issues and agreed that they would need to refer the matters back to their principals for their input.
“Prime Minister Browne for his part pledged to hold discussions with counterpart LIAT shareholder Prime Ministers in order to advance the need for pragmatic response to the current issues, some of which are of long standing,” said the statement. “It is expected that the next round of discussions between the parties will take place early in the New Year.”