Court orders LIAT pilots back to work

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua: Regional airline, LIAT, has obtained a court injunction preventing its pilots from continuing their protest action that has forced the cancellation of several flights.

On Friday, the panel issued the order after several pilots called in sick.

The Antigua and Barbuda Industrial Court has barred the pilots from “continuing any further industrial action whether by means of a strike, go slow, sick out or any other related action”.

The order would remain in force “until the determination of the current negotiations” between the two parties “or until further order” of the court.

Earlier, the pilots had warned of a possible escalation of their industrial action.

“We are going to have to bring them to the table. If they don’t, the industrial action will be escalated,” said Captain Michael Blackburn, chairman of the airline’s pilots association.

LIAT said the action by the pilots had led to the cancellation of flights to Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Martinique, Antigua, Grenada, St. Vincent, Puerto Rico and Curacao.

The airline issued a statement to apologize for the disruption, saying that the carrier was working to resolve the dispute.

“LIAT sincerely apologies to affected passengers for the inconvenience caused as a result of the action by its flight crews,” the statement read.

However, Blackburn said his members were outraged at the decision by the airline to provide large bonuses to management, while calling on pilots and other workers to accept lower salaries over the years.

“Our collective agreement and the East Caribbean Civil Aviation regulations require an airline of our size to have two pilot managers, who can do some flying,” he said, noting that LIAT has six such managers.

Blackburn said that any concessions should be passed on to the Caribbean people, adding that they were paying high fares to travel the region.

“I can’t justify making any concessions when you employ six managers, when you only need two, when you go and pay bonuses of that nature. That is unacceptable,” he said, adding that his members had authorized the union not to accept “anything less than the average”.

In an earlier statement, LIAT refuted reports that it was considering paying a bonus to its employees.

“LIAT would like to categorically deny this. It is an absolutely false and malicious statement by (the airline pilot’s association) in this unstable economic and financial climate. The board of LIAT has not contemplated or is not now contemplating the payment of bonuses to any member of the Executive Management; Management or Staff of LIAT.”

Blackburn, who described Friday’s sick out by pilots as a “shot across the bow” said he could not restrain his members any longer.

“I can’t tell people for 12 years take restraint, look at the Caribbean people and when the managers getting bonuses,” he said. “How am I going to justify that?”

Blackburn accused LIAT of putting most of the issues on the negotiating table into arbitration so as to frustrate the employees.

“At the rate we are going we are going to be three years talking,” he said, adding that the union was prepared to have salaries, flight seniority and promotions taken into arbitration.

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