June 27, 2022
The Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA) is disappointed and saddened by the unfortunate comments made by the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines, The Hon Dr. Ralph Gonsalves recently in the media. You have been silent for virtually two years and in your first address, you found it most fitting to chastise the workers in their time of need. We view the notion that, workers are to be blamed for the failure of the airline inaccurate and a cheap shot. According to media reports, a decision was made by you and other shareholder Prime Ministers to liquidate the company in June 2020. The airline has always been tumultuous for reasons beyond the staff’s control. What should be of supreme importance to you Sir, and the other shareholder prime ministers during these unprecedented times of financial fallout for workers, is to collectively solve the issue of owed entitlements to the terminated workers.
Terminated workers have been on the breadline since April 2020 and are in dire straits. We are forced to remind you, sir, as far back as 2013 in the Beverly Sinclair interview on “Time to Talk” in Grenada. You told Ms Sinclair that LIAT is not an ordinary business and without it we could not get from one island to another, lastly, you created the rationale that we were lucky if it broke even. In at least three of the last audits conducted, the Directors of the Board some of who you have appointed admitted that the airline was insolvent. They however were guaranteed that the Shareholders would support, finance, and also amend laws to keep the airline operating. The workers were not responsible for the high taxes on tickets, the scheduling of unprofitable routes, the selection of various management, the costly selection of the ATR aircraft, the hangar fire which destroyed vital technical historical records for the aircraft and for the hurricanes which ravaged the region.
In the 2019 meeting held in Barbados between the shareholders and unions to discuss the state of the airline, a request for a pay cut of 10% was made to the unions. LIALPA agreed to a 6% cut, but the proposal was ultimately refused by the Company and viewed as not being sufficient, whose fault was that? At that time Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua & Barbuda stated that you could not ask the workers to give more, a partial pay cut was better than none. The workers suggested baggage fees which are common in the airline industry that was flatly refused by you. Other Prime Ministers have also made comments such as “LIAT has 10 days of cash left” which severely impacted the confidence of travelers. Two former prime ministers of Barbados asked the Company not to retrieve the funds from CLICO and instead of the Company doing the right thing to protect the workers interests, they gave into political pressure and left the money in CLICO. Where is CLICO today and who was involved in the protection of that company?
Every step of the way the workers have remained loyal whilst making many sacrifices, through delayed salaries, being owed monies, no pay increases, and the disregarding of workers’ rights through the years.
They have lent their unwavering support, aiding the airlift in moving people and supplies in and out of islands which were destroyed by hurricanes. They brought nurses from Cuba to various islands in the fight against the pandemic. Despite these impediments, these issues did not hamper our drive to be one of safest airlines in the region if not in the Western Hemisphere. LIAT had an envious safety record transporting yourself, other prime ministers, citizens, and tourist alike. Now, to be discarded as used and spent entities taking one for the political team, you have showed no empathy to the plight of the LIAT workers. We don’t need platitudes or trying harder or influencing, we need leadership from the four shareholder prime ministers. We hope the shareholder governments would emulate the commendable responsible leadership of the St Lucian Prime Minister The Hon. Philip J. Pierre in honoring the debt of the St Lucian workers. It is good to hear that in another media statement you finally plan to find some way to address the issue of severance albeit two years late. It’s the morally right decision to take care of the terminated LIAT workers”. But then again morality is insoluble in politics.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].