ST. VINCENT: – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says there is a need for “more regulation” on the heels of the pilots strike that has left passenger of regional airline LIAT stranded since Wednesday.
“There has to be some amendment to the existing model in going forward. … Regional arrangements have to be based on a certain amount of reasonableness by all of the parties. And when you find excessive unreasonableness, more regulation would have to be required,” Gonsalves said on Thursday.
Pilots called in sick beginning Wednesday because of grievances regarding salary deductions, retroactive payments, pensions, and an arbitration award.
The pilots want a commitment from LIAT to repay all the monies unilaterally deducted from their salaries, settle all retroactive public holiday payments, address concerns about the status of current pension deductions and sign off on a new contract immediately following the judgment of the arbitration panel which met earlier this year to settle some of the issues.
Gonsalves told journalists in Kingstown that he was ‘disappointed’ that the pilots had engaged in industrial actions.
“As you know, there is an area that we regulate and must regulate very strongly,” Gonsalves noted adding that Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member countries have upgraded their civil aviation directorate to an authority.
Member nations now have common legislation for training and safety standards and for licensing aircraft and pilots.
He noted that when the CL Financial debacle arose last year, it became clear that there was a need for common legislations governing regional entities. (Go to the homepage to subscribe to I Witness-News)
“… [We] have to find a better regional framework for regional entities, including LIAT,” he said.
Gonsalves further said there was a need to speed up with the new Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration in Port-of-Spain, discussion between the Trinidad and Tobago owned Caribbean Airlines and LIAT.
“We have to accelerate those discussions so that we can see when difficult arise how we can have some additional coverage, we have to make transitional arrangements of one kind or another. Because persons who can be unreasonable with these four things can be unreasonable again next week,” he said.
Gonsalves said the effects of the strike went beyond the approximately half million U.S. dollars (EC$1.35 million) that LIAT was loses every day of the strike.
He was was due to travel to St. Lucia for a meeting with fellow OECS leaders, starting Thursday.
He however said he, along with Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and Montserrat Chief Minister Reuben Meade, took a principled stand against taking a charter flight to attend the talks when citizens of the sub-region and other passengers remained grounded.
He however asked Vincentian to allow him to travel to St. Lucia via charter on Friday to sign the requisite agreements from that meeting, if the LIAT situation had not improved. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)
“I have constituents, poor people who had to go to Barbados and Trinidad for medical treatment who have not been able to go yesterday or today. I have mothers who have to meet their children elsewhere. I have children who have to meet their children elsewhere. We have a team of under-19 netballers from Antigua and Barbuda here stranded. You have business people who can’t do their work – thousands of people across the region,” Gonsalves said.
“Surely, even though legally this is not an essential service in St. Vincent and the Grenadines or wherever, you can’t pull something like this. It is as though the barons have King John — King John being LIAT metaphorically — over the barrel at Runnymede.
“But, there was one good thing in 1215, the Magna Carta came out, which was an enduring document. So, maybe out of this would come something even more enduring.
“I am using this forum to urge the pilots to go back in the skies. We can sit and talk and set up a framework to address some of these issues. We can’t undermine this civilisation and this Caribbean Community in this manner,” he said.
Gonsalves said while shutting down LIAT, like Port-of-Spain did to emerge with Caribbean Airlines, was an option, doing so would cost about EC$150 million (US$55.56 million).
“Sometimes there are challenges to doing sometimes that need to be done, like that one,” he said, adding that competitors to LIAT “don’t last as long as Miss Janie’s fire”.
“The sub region is just too small – the market – to sustain two airlines the size of LIAT. But, of course, you need something also in addition to LIAT and this is where you need other kinds of aircrafts with particular niches to do certain things,” he said.