Vincentians are among passengers affected as regional airline, LIAT, was this morning hit by flight cancellations and delays after members of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) embarked on industrial action.
A statement by the Antigua-based airline said that it was informing passengers that “in the ongoing negotiations for higher wages, which includes the operation of the ATR aircraft, the pilots have taken action to refuse to fly the ATR 72 aircraft until an agreement is reached”.
LIAT said that as a consequence of this action it has not been able to operate flights scheduled with ATR 72 aircraft at this time.
The ATR 72 aircraft seats 48 passengers, and is part of the new fleet the airline acquired in 2013 as a part of the company’s restructuring plans aiming at fleet modernization and network improvements.
A source close to the LIAT’s pilots told WEFM News today that LIALPA met recently with the Minister of Labour in Antigua and he came to the solution that a consent order should be agreed to, and sign off on the salaries, however the government refused to sign off on the salary for pilots flying the bigger aircraft (the ATR 72), so as a result the pilots have taken a decision not to fly the ATR 72 aircraft.
Meanwhile, speaking on the shakeup programme aired here on WEFM News Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who is chairman of LIAT’s Shareholder Governments said he spoke to LIAT’s CEO – Julie Reifer Jones and other shareholder governments on the issue, earlier today.
“I spoke earlier too with Julie Reifer Jones who is CEO of LIAT and she outlined to me that taking all the issues concerned with the pilots including that issue about the payment in respect of flying the ATR 32, the premium payment required for that and in respect of their claim that they should have had a salary increase and it should be retroactive from a particular date, she tells me that if they only deal with what they may call the salary deferral and the premium for the ATR 72 that is a matter between 6 to 7 million dollars.”
“And that if you deal with all the remuneration issues for them and for other categories of workers you are looking at a number in excess of 15 million dollars. These are huge numbers, Dr. Gonsalves said.”
Prime Minister Gonsalves is asking the pilots to await structural reform work, which he said will take place in early August.
Dr. Gonsalves issued an appeal for LIAT’s pilots to return to work. He said that “taking this action (the strike) now is going to make it very difficult for LIAT to survive”.
The Prime Minister said “LIAT has made the pilots for the ATRs very marketable” having spent about US$100,000 on training for each of them.
The pilots would have undergone training in operating the ATR aircrafts in Toulouse, France over a four week period.
LIAT said that among the flights that have been cancelled includes LI 560 from St. Vincent to Barbados, LI 300 from Barbados to Tortola, LI 301 from Tortola to Barbados, and LI 512 from Antigua/St. Kitts/Tortola.