UPDATE 3-LIAT-STRIKE-Airline seeks to talk to pilots as passengers experience frustration

ST JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – Regional airline LIAT on Wednesday sought to get its disgruntled pilots back to the negotiating table, as passengers continue to feel the effect of sick out that has grounded the operations of the Antigua-based carrier.

“Issues will always come up. Let’s sit down around the table and seek to negotiate that in a good faith. This (the sickout) to me is not good faith,” said LIAT’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Brian Challenger.

Many of the affected passengers said they the airline has not indicated whether or not it will meet hotel expenses as a result of the sickout by its pilots.

“We came in on Tuesday for a visa application and we are now returning home, and they say all the flights have been cancelled, and they are not going to accommodate us or telling us when is the next flight,” said Cleaver Burton, who is due to return to Dominica from Barbados with his wife.

Roderick George, who was due in Grenada on Wednesday, said that the sickout has also affected his plans.

“I am diabetic and have to get my medication that has run out right now,” he said, while Guyanese Shabana Ali, who is travelling with a baby, said that she did not expect to be having that problem on arrival in Barbados from London.

The action by the pilots was mainly felt in Antigua and Barbados, where the carrier, which operates more than 100 flights daily, has two hubs feeding services to the rest of its network.

Among the affected passengers was the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who also has lead responsibility for aviation matters within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Gonsalves and fellow Eastern Caribbean leaders were due in St Lucia on Wednesday ahead of their summit on Thursday.

He told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that though impacted by the sick out action, he was not about to apportion blame but was focussed on resolving the issues.

The Leeward Islands Air Pilots Association (LIALPA) had given the airline’s management until midnight on Tuesday to withdraw a statement issued in response to a decision by the pilots to withdraw their enthusiasm to work.

The pilots’ union makes specific reference to the company’s press release that states “in July 2009, all disputed issues between LIAT and LIALPA including that of retroactive pay were discussed at a meeting of the company’s three shareholder Prime Ministers held in St. Vincent. An agreement was reached between the parties on a course of action for resolving them”.

The union described the statement as “false” and said that the issue had been raised at a meeting with the airline’s management in Barbados on Tuesday.

Challenger said that following the meeting he did not get the impression that the pilots were considering a sickout which he said was unwarranted.

“LIAT of course is suffering, but more importantly, people who are LIAT — the passengers — those are the ones who are suffering,” he said.

“We have a Heads of Government meeting today. We have (the St Kitts) Music Festival on the weekend. Those are the people who are being hurt and we recognise that as long as there are personnel and industrial relations, there will always be issues and means of resolving those issues,” Challenger said, adding that the airline was considering all options.

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