December 21, 2007
Prime Minister feels hurt by LIAT sickout

This country’s Prime Minister says that he feels personally hurt by what took place with LIAT on Wednesday, when a sickout by 24 flight attendants grounded 34 flights and led to long delays with others.{{more}}

Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who has been very aggressive in his support for LIAT, said that while he is not putting blame on any one, “It is evident that there is a serious problem in the Industrial Relations system in LIAT, for differences that exist not to be settled in existing procedures”.

Dr Gonsalves said that in the past, pilots and flight attendants have not hesitated to contact him when the future of the airline was in doubt, “asking me to please save their jobs.” He said that he found it disappointing that if the Industrial Relations machinery was failing, that the flight attendants couldn’t forward a document to him or any of the other shareholding countries’ Prime Ministers, asking for their intervention.

He said that the action taken in such a peak period wasn’t proportionate, a view he believes would be shared by “most reasonable persons.”

“After the long struggle to make LIAT survive, and for us to have managed to put it in the sky, and make it capitalized …to have success, the problem can’t be of such a nature that it can’t be settled by dialogue,” a disappointed Dr Gonsalves said.

“Stanford was not able to close us, but 24 flight attendants did,” Dr Gonsalves said.

LIAT’s management Wednesday described the sickout by the flight attendants as being “completely unjustified.”

Chief Executive Officer Mark Darby is reported as saying that no official reason has been given for the action staged by the flight attendants who called in sick.

“We do have the support of our shareholder governments to take strong action on this. They are very, very upset and they’ve asked me to convey the strength of their feeling about this action,” Darby said.

In addressing speculation that the flight attendants were upset about contract crews being paid at a higher rate to cover additional flights, Darby noted that the practice is not unusual.

“We’ve hired a small group of contract crews just to help us with the Christmas period to make sure that we had enough crew to mount the operation, and we discussed that with the flight attendants’ association (Leeward Islands Flight Attendants Association) and we’ve reached an agreement with them.

“As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing that should have provoked this action and certainly we’ve not been made aware of any particular action that should have resulted in this today,” Darby said.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT that he has been told that things should have been back to normal yesterday.

He said that he plans to stay on top of the situation.