December 4, 2009
LIAT mum on reason for recent dismissals

LIAT is offering no comment at this time as to reason for the dismissal of several of its workers here in St. Vincent.{{more}}

Last week, Searchlight interviewed three workers who felt that they had been unfairly dismissed, and were seeking answers to the reason for their dismissal. When Searchlight contacted LIAT’s Corporate Communications manager Desmond Brown, he said that they were unable to comment on the situation.

Devon Blake, an employee of LIAT for about eight years, told Searchlight that he and four other workers were dismissed because they were a “risk to national security”. Blake said that on October 29, 2009, he and four other workers were on duty at the airport when security personnel approached them and said that their passes were no longer valid. Blake said that they were not given an explanation why they were not valid but he was informed that they were to be cancelled.

Afterwards Blake and the three other employees were given two weeks’ suspension pending an inquiry into the cancellation of their passes, Blake said.

Blake said a meeting was held between the workers, their union representative and the LIAT officials on November 11, 2009. In this meeting Blake said that they were not told why their passes were pulled. Another meeting took place on the November 18 with LIAT officials from Antigua, during which Blake said they were given termination letters. They were not told why their passes had been cancelled but were only told that they were being fired because they were a risk to national security.

Terminations puzzling

Blake says he remains puzzled after the meeting as he is not quite sure in what way they, the workers, were considered risks, and feels angered over the dismissal he calls unfair. What Blake says he needs now are answers to why he was terminated, and closure. After working for eight years, he says, he feels greatly upset at the outcome.

Blake’s co workers also expressed their dissatisfaction, both with the dismissal of Blake and the others and with their own sudden termination.

Nnaker Murphy and Eldon Caine, LIAT workers for several years, were also dismissed after five weeks of suspension. The reason they claim is because they were simply following the instructions of a pilot who told them not to board passengers onto a plane.

That incident took place on July 21, 2009, at the ET. Joshua airport. Caine related that around four that morning, an incoming flight was about 51 minutes late in arriving at the airport. Caine said that they were told by the pilot to not let anyone board until a senior LIAT official had arrived to board the plane. Caine had said that the official was on the island for the meeting on July 20 involving the three heads of governments LIAT shareholders.

Murphy and Caine said that it is protocol to follow the instructions of the pilot as he “is in charge of the flight”. Murphy said following procedure she informed the passengers of the situation and why they could not be let onto the plane.

They also had a meeting with LIAT personnel and a disciplinary hearing which they referred to as a ‘mock hearing’ as they said no one else associated with the incident was present. Only Caine and Murphy were among those involved at the hearing which took place on September 10, 2009. They added that they were not told of the outcome of the hearing and on October 6, 2009, were presented with termination letters which stated that their last working day was on the October 7.

No severance pay

Murphy and Caine also share Blake’s feeling. Both want confirmation of their dismissal. Murphy added that she thinks that it is unfair that they were dismissed in that way, and said that it was unjust. Having worked for the airline company for a number of years, all the ex-employees are upset that they were not given severance pay. “Only a month’s pay they gave us,” Murphy protested.

In a flurry of angry voices, the ex-employees voiced their distress. Blake charged that if he was dismissed because of his risk to security why wasn’t he arrested. The group expressed that they had even tried to stage a sick out but it was not successful as they did not receive the full support of their fellow employees.

Minister of National Security and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves commented on the situation at a recent press conference. “I have been advised that four persons were dismissed by LIAT because their passes were withdrawn. One of those persons actually came to see me,” he said.

Gonsalves added that he does not know nor has he inquired into the issue of the security risk, but stated that it does not mean that the persons dismissed are guilty of any criminal offence. “No one has been charged for anything. No one has been tried for anything.

The authorities at the airport withdrew the passes and, therefore, LIAT says that if you don’t have the passes you can’t really function. But one must not presume that the security risk involves something which would bring in a criminal sanction. I think that has to be absolutely clear so as to protect the presumption of innocence of those persons.” (OS)