PM: Declare LIAT operation ‘essential Service’
June 22, 2010
PM: Declare LIAT operation ‘essential Service’

LIAT’s pilots called off strike action on Friday, June 18, 2010, after a two-day sickout that is estimated to have cost the airline over EC$2 million.{{more}}

But as the parties involved try to find an amicable solution to the problems, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is declaring that CARICOM will have to take steps to declare LIAT’s operations an “essential service” throughout the region.

Gonsalves, who has lead responsibility for aviation matters in CARICOM, told journalists on Thursday, June 17, 2010, too many persons and vital sectors within the region depend on LIAT’s service for it to be disturbed by industrial action with short notice.

“This airline, though not legally … an essential service (in St. Vincent) in the way in which water and electricity are essential services, is an essential service, and ought so to be declared across the region.

“And that is an issue where unreasonableness will be forcing governments to have that declared an essential service across the region,” said Gonsalves.

The prime minister disclosed that LIAT was expected to lose EC$1.6 million daily during the protest. Over 3,000 passengers were estimated to have been affected.

“Far more than the loss of revenue of US half a million dollars a day, is the…amount of money which we lose in the hotels, the restaurants, the taxi men and women, the vendors of all kinds, people’s inconvenience. The cost is phenomenal, and it’s when things like this happen you see the strategic importance which this government attached to being part of owning the regional airline to have a determination in its operation,” said Gonsalves.

He said across the region, all the laws will have to be harmonized to reflect that LIAT is an essential service and that parties involved cannot strike in the same way as other employees would normally do.

“You would have to give notice so that anybody who is working with LIAT in whichever country they are working, they know they can’t strike. Whether you are hired out of St.Vincent or Antigua or Barbados or Trinidad, all the laws must say the same thing, so that action can be taken in any of the jurisdictions,” said Gonsalves, noting that here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, workers at VINLEC have to give a 14 day notice before any protest action.

He said such regulations will allow “vanities” to cool, while quick measures are put in place to resolve the issues.

The prime minister reiterated that other consequential steps will have to be put in place “to prevent this kind of irresponsible action in the future.”

Gonsalves described the sick-out as unfounded, based on the fact that it was being called against the backdrop where the pilots were asking management to withdraw statements that essentially were not false.