LIAT Shareholders Meet With Regional Trade Unions

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Officials of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, are meeting with a delegation of unions representing the airline’s staff here today in an attempt to quell the latest round of industrial unrest.

LIAT, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has already warned passengers to brace for delays and flight cancellations.

“These current irregular operations may continue to occur over the next few days as we work towards resolving the issues. We advise our passengers to contact LIAT’s Reservations Team prior to leaving for the airport”.

But the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIAPA) has distanced its members from being part of any industrial action at the cash-strapped airline.

The meeting on Tuesday is expected to discuss a move by LIAT to implement a late payment schedule to its employees that is likely to continue for the next five months.

In a statement the airline quoted its acting chief executive officer, Julie Reifer-Jones as saying that “LIAT’s management sincerely apologises for any disruption to the travel plans of our valued passengers at this time.

“We remain committed to working with our employees to resolve the issues currently impacting the delivery of our service to the Caribbean”.

Last month, the airline sent a letter to the chairman of the Standing Regional Consultative Council of Trade Unions within the LIAT System (SRCCTULS), David Massiah, indicating that the airline’s major shareholders are willing to meet with a delegation from the unions “to have a structured discussion on the current financial position of LIAT, the industrial climate and the future of the airline”.

In a March 30 email to the airline’s staff, Reifer-Jones said that LIAT “is going through a difficult financial situation and has implemented a schedule of delays for salaries for all employees over the next five months.”

She said the financial delays are affecting all airline employees, including the executive team.

Reifer-Jones said the airline was proposing a five-month period as it expects that the situation should improve by the summer months.

“Scheduled payment arrangements have also been implemented for our lessors, engine manufacturer and general suppliers as we work through this difficult period.”

She said that the measures have been implemented, “not as a result of disrespect for the employees but, in an effort to keep the company’s operations going.

“If the airline collapses, we will all suffer and the discussion changes from delayed salary to no salary and unemployment. This is the question we face today; how can we operate today so that we can continue to pay salaries in the future?”

Reifer-Jones said that the airline did not have any “funds hidden away which management refuses to use to pay salaries on time.

“Our Commercial Team is working relentlessly to grow passenger volumes and to improve our yield in order to make the airline profitable but these measures take time to have an impact and frankly they will only work if our- flights actually operate and if they are on-time.

“I know that this situation presents challenges for all of us and I want to thank all our employees who continue to work tirelessly despite the delays. It is this spirit of hard work and perseverance that will help us through these times.”

She further said that the airline is listening and recognises “your genuine concerns as outlined by your union representatives, and so we have arranged for discussions between your union representatives and the major shareholders to provide a forum to discuss the current state of the airline”.

“I hope you understand that if the airline does not fly we will earn less revenue and this puts us in a more critical position than before. Our bookings for Easter have only just started to pick up and it would be a loss to all of us and to the Caribbean, as a whole, if we do not maintain this momentum. We must therefore continue to work together to ensure that LIAT continues to operate and serve the region to the benefit of as all,” Reifer-Jones said.

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