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blackburn gonsalves
In this July 2009 file photo, Captain Michael Blackburn, left, and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, chair of LIAT shareholder governments, appear at a press conference in Kingstown at the end of an industrial dispute involving LIAT workers (I-Witness News photo).

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua — LIAT pilots have decided to return to work today after a two-day sickout that left thousand of persons stranded across the region, the Nation newspaper in Barbados reported late last night.

The pilots are returning to work even as the airline said in a statement yesterday that the pilots who called in sick on Tuesday and Wednesday were “at best misguided and at worst selfish”.

But the airline’s pilots’ association informed LIAT’s management that it would take industrial action in their dispute over pension payments if certain actions are not taken by the company by Dec.15, the Barbadian newspaper reported.

The pilot’s group also branded as “unlawful” Monday’s sacking of Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association’s (LIALPA) lead spokesman, Captain Michael Blackburn, which led to their sickout.

Last night LIAT’s management was reported to be trying to get a working arrangement with competitors Caribbean Airways of Trinidad and Tobago and REDjet, based in Barbados, to get stranded LIAT passengers to their destinations.

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LIAT, in a statement yesterday, said that the sickout effectively shut down the company’s flight operations and on both days, only one flight was able to operate, moving from Antigua and Trinidad respectively.

The statement also said that the sickout was LIALPA’s response to the summary dismissal of Blackburn, a senior pilot within the company.

“This action by the company, taken after long and careful consideration, reflects the advice received from various legal sources that Captain Blackburn’s behaviour, and in particular his recent statements on the radio, had effectively destroyed the requirement for professional respect expected between an employer and its employees. In this case, summary dismissal as contemplated under the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code was recommended as the appropriate course of action,” LIAT said.

“In particular it is felt that Captain Blackburn’s statements with regard to the safety standards of the airline and the capability of its management were a deliberate attempt to bring the company into public disrepute. These statements, including those relating to safety have received widespread publicity throughout the region, and indeed the world, painting an unfair and distorted picture of LIAT’s operations and bringing the safety and reliability of the airline into question,” the airline said without elaborating on the details of Blackburn’s alleged statements.

In this image, captured from a Jerry S. George video, a disgruntled LIAT passenger tears a baggage tag at the E.T. Joshua Airport in St. Vincent on Tuesday.

“These actions can only hurt LIAT,” the statement continued.

“In that regard the action by the pilots, while we may understand the emotions involved, are at best misguided and at worst selfish. We are all aware of the economic crisis, which the world faces. LIAT’s own situation is particularly grave given the intense competition that it now faces and the overall economic situation in the region. All around us companies in the region and throughout the world are undergoing staff reduction and other austerity measures forced upon them by the current economic downturn. During this time actions which needlessly alienate our customers and rack up huge cost cannot be condoned,” the statement when on to say.

LIAT, in the statement, urge LIALPA “to seek appropriate remedies for its grievance under the established procedures of the Labour Code and other legislation.

“Sick-outs and other forms of industrial action will not achieve the desired ends and will cost the company millions of dollars which it cannot afford at this, or any other, time,” the airline further stated.

“In particular the company wishes to place on record that the recent action in relation to Captain Blackburn does not represent any attempt by the company to interfere with the collective bargaining process. The company will continue to attempt to engage with its 10 union representative bodies in a manner which allows for respectful dialogue and exchange aimed at promoting the advancement of the company and its employees,” the statement went on to say.

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