Antigua union says LIAT must first get serious about itself

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The sustainability of the Antigua-based regional airline LIAT was the subject of a press conference yesterday by one of the unions representing its employees.

LIAT has been plagued by financial difficulties and industrial unrest for many years across the numerous Caribbean territories in which it operates.

The airline’s major shareholders are the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Recently, another major effort to restructure LIAT has been ongoing, based on a technical report by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank – the major source or channel of funding for the airline.

During Thursday’s press conference at its Newgate Street headquarters, the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) discussed whether other governments impacted by LIAT’s service will be willing to come on board as shareholders, and thereby inject some badly-needed additional funding (capitalization) into the cash-strapped carrier.

Speaking during Thursday’s press conference, the ABWU’s general secretary, David Massiah, referred to the eight-point plan recently presented by LIAT to all the unions representing its employees. 

One proposal contained in the plan essentially seeks a commitment from the unions that they will refrain from strike action because of the damaging effect work stoppages have had on LIAT’s fortunes over the years – especially the disruptions to its flight schedules and operations.

On that basis, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has promised that his government will soon bring to Parliament legislation making LIAT an essential service (see The Daily OBSERVER, February 8th 2019).

Should that happen, LIAT’s pilots and other essential staff could still mount industrial protests, but would be required by the legislation to give management or the employer several weeks’ notice of the planned or intended strike action before it is undertaken.

Massiah, not for the first time, expressed the view that mismanagement throughout the years remains the main cause of LIAT’s problems. He said LIAT has failed to take this matter seriously, even when repeatedly brought to its attention by the union.

Providing examples of the mismanagement to which he referred, Massiah suggested LIAT had unnecessarily allowed itself to become the subject of legal proceedings which it had lost, resulting in huge financial awards against the airline, thus causing further increases to its debt load.

He referred to a fire several years ago which destroyed LIAT’s maintenance hangar in Antigua and the loss of a plane that was inside the facility for servicing at the time.

Massiah said the ABWU had recommended firing the person in charge for not electronically backing up files and records, but LIAT simply dismissed the union.

According to Massiah, another concern the union brought to LIAT’s attention concerns the airline’s route rights and its persistent shortage of aircraft.

He said while the ABWU is “all about saving LIAT,” a practical and sensible blueprint or template must be presented before any effective measures can be taken to alleviate the airline’s plight.

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