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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (R) and Cpt. Michael Blackburn of the LIAT Pilots Association.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (R) and Cpt. Michael Blackburn of the LIAT Pilots Association.

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – There has been a declaration of “peace, perfect peace” in the impasse between the management of regional airline LIAT and its pilots’ association.

This country’s Prime Minister, Dr, Ralph Gonsalves made the announcement here Monday afternoon, after a meeting here with member of the pilots association and LIAT shareholder prime ministers.

Prime Ministers Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados’ David Thompson and host Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of SVG along with LIAT Chairman Dr. Jean Holder and Chief Executive Officer Brian Challenger along with representative of 10 trade unions attended the meeting.

The parties have agreed to arbitration to resolve “industrial actions” by the pilots, which have resulted in extensive delays in most of LIAT 22 destination and US$535, 000 in lost revenue.

The pilots have denied any form of industrial actions.

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“There is a declaration of peace. You are not going to hear any shouting across the seas by the management and by [Chairman of the pilots association, Captain Michael Blackburn]

“And we all give the commitment that we will cease any guerilla tactics by going to the press in some unattributed way and having a story and so forth. “There will be peace, perfect peace,” Dr. Gonsalves said during a press briefing after the meeting.

He said the “successful meeting” signaled “the commencement of a fresh start, a partnership between LIAT’s management and all the stakeholders, including the pilots association”.

“We have come to a conclusion as to how we will proceed. I found today that all concerned wanted to ensure not only the survival of LIAT but the thriving of LIAT. This is our airline and a sense of patriotism emerged,” he said.

Dr Gonsalves said that because of the global economic crisis, the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union and Barbados have “some especial challenges”.

“We have to avoid any self-inflicted wounds. And this matter, which we have been having in LIAT, does no one any good. Certainly, it doesn’t do this region and this civilization any good,” he said.

“on the right track, finally”

Captain Blackburn told the media that he felt negotiations were “on the right track, finally”.

“It’s been 12 years in the making trying to get where we are… There has been ground broken and we are hoping to build on and expand in good faith,” he said.

He said he had advocated arbitration in the past and hoped that the negotiation process moves expeditiously “so that LIAT can move forward”.

Captain Blackburn said that while it was “unfortunate” that the airline lost US$535, 000, he hoped “that the lesson has been learnt”.

He said there was a victory for the workers in the Caribbean, saying employers cannot “injunct a labour”.

He was referring to an injunction granted by the Industrial Court last month, preventing the pilots from staging any protest action against the airline until their wage negotiations are completed.

“If you take away basic right to withdraw my labour I will not be happy and an unhappy worker is not a productive worker,” he said, adding that they pilots will abide by the orders of the court.

“I am very optimistic. I am very upbeat. We will keep our end of the bargain. I am sure they will keep theirs and hopefully we can expedite the matter of arbitration, to be determined by the end of September. It has been a long time in coming.

“The pilots felt that they have been at the bottom of the barrel for a long time,” Blackburn said, adding that he hoped that the situation is resolved soon.

The agreement

According to Dr. Gonsalves, LIAT and the LIAT Pilots Association will submit all the employment issues relating to LIAT pilots to a binding arbitration.

Retired Barbadian jurist, former High Court judge, Leroy Innis Q.C. will chair the arbitration and the LIAT Pilots Association and the airline management will each have one member on the panel.

Dr. Gonsalves said that the arbitration panel will devise its own mode of working, within framework of laws of Antigua and Barbuda and a final report will be received from the arbitration panel on or before September 30.

In the meantime, the parties will revert to the circumstances before the injunction in industrial court against the pilot by the management

“We have an understanding and assurance by the pilot’s association that any and all industrial action, which they have denied they have taken, will cease. The injunction will be lifted on the 30th, because that is the day they return to court,” Dr. Gonsalves said.