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Gonsalves: LIAT pilots sick out totally unacceptable

Gonsalves: LIAT pilots sick out totally unacceptable

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Although some LIAT pilots returned to work on Thursday morning, the industrial action taken by LIAT Pilots following the dismissal of Captain Michael Blackburn, continued on a limited basis.{{more}}

The airline’s pilots called a sick out beginning Tuesday, December 6, in solidarity with Captain Michael Blackburn, a senior pilot within the company, who was dismissed on Monday, December 5.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who is the Chairman of shareholders of LIAT, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, December 7, said that a proposal put forward by Senator Chester Humphrey, Chairman of the LIAT Regional Grouping of Trade Unions and the LIAT pilots, to bring an end to the industrial action, was unacceptable.

Humphrey had proposed that Blackburn’s letter of dismissal be rescinded and that instead, he be suspended with pay, and made to appear before a tribunal.

Gonsalves said that he had been in contact with Prime Ministers Freundel Stuart and Baldwin Spencer of Barbados and Antigua, respectively, as well as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of LIAT, and they are all in agreement that the proposal is unacceptable.

According to the prime minister, LIAT’s management feels as though it acted “sensibly, reasonably, correctly” in its decision to dismiss Blackburn, who is the president of the Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA).

Gonsalves further contended that the action taken by the pilots was also completely unacceptable, adding that if Blackburn or the pilots felt aggrieved in any manner, there was a legal process to challenge a wrongful or unfair dismissal.

“You can’t have a sick out to have a power which you have because you fly the planes,” Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT.

“It is completely unacceptable. That is a kind of baronial power, unchecked, which will put the region at the mercy of one group of workers, and that can’t be allowed to happen,” he continued.

The prime minister said that he and the other shareholders were waiting to see how the matter panned out yesterday, Thursday, December 8, explaining that under existing labour laws, the pilots could not go more than two days without presenting a medical certificate.

He explained that LIAT was trying to make alternative arrangements to alleviate the problem of stranded passengers.

These included arrangements for a 19-seater twin otter aircraft to take some people in and out of St. Vincent to Barbados and making arrangements with Caribbean Airlines to charter flights.

A press release from LIAT stated that the action taken by the company was taken after long and careful consideration and reflected the advice received from various legal sources that Captain Blackburn’s behaviour had effectively destroyed the requirement for professional respect expected between an employer and its employee.

“In this case, summary dismissal as contemplated under the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code was recommended as the appropriate course of action.

“In particular, it is felt that Captain Blackburn’s statements with regard to the safety standards of the airline and the capability of its management were a deliberate attempt to bring the company into public disrepute. These statements, including those relating to safety have received widespread publicity throughout the region, and indeed the world, painting an unfair and distorted picture of LIAT’s operations and bringing the safety and reliability of the airline into question.”

It further stated that the action by the pilots can only hurt the company, and that while “we may understand the emotions involved, are at best misguided and at worst selfish.”

“All around us companies in the region and throughout the world are undergoing staff reduction and other austerity measures forced upon them by the current economic downturn. During this time, actions which needlessly alienate our customers and rack up huge cost cannot be condoned.”

The release indicated that it was urging the Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA) to seek appropriate remedies for its grievance under the established procedures of the Labour Code and other legislation.

“Sick outs and other forms of industrial action will not achieve the desired ends and will cost the company millions of dollars which it cannot afford at this, or any other time.

Prime Minister Gonsalves further indicated that the sick out was “wholly wrong” and referred to it as blackmail.

“The governments have to take to the agenda the winding up of LIAT 1974 Ltd and replacing it with LIAT 2012 Ltd and deal with this matter in a surgical manner,” Gonsalves said, adding that the governments of Dominica and St Lucia had expressed an interest in joining St Vincent, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda as share holders of the airline.

“We can’t continue like this. The shareholder governments are very upset with the pilots,” he said. (DD)

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