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(Caribbean Business Report) – President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), Patterson Thompson, has hinted at the possibility of legal action in order to get the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, meet its obligation towards the severance payment to pilots.

“A lot of pilots have given their complete adult life to LIAT. I have one pilot who is set to retire next year, after 42 years. There is another who is set to retire this October and he has given 30 odd years to LIAT. To tell these gentlemen they don’t have severance or they may have to take a haircut or cents on the dollar is a difficult thing to swallow in these times,” he said.He said while he understood the business structure of the airline, he expected that the company has “a moral obligation” to pay severance, adding “you don’t want to set a bad precedent throughout the region.

“For me, I don’t know how they are going to get it done other than going into the court. There is no other real step to take,” said Thompson, who added that pilots still had retroactive pay to collect on an incremental increase they were given about three years ago.

The association’s president said pilots are still owed back pay from an incremental increase three years ago.

“We haven’t gotten it yet. We went home without a cent, three months now. I am home three months now without any form of income and it is tough.”

The shareholder governments of the Antigua-based regional airline, last weekend received a report from the board of directors and the management on the critical financial position of the airline “particularly on the issue concerning winding up or liquidation and taking the decision for a general meeting of all the ordinary shareholders of the company to consider a resolution for the winding up, dissolution of the company”.

The chairman of the shareholder governments, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves Monday sought to assure employees that payment of outstanding salaries and arrears “will be urgently addressed”.

LIAT is said to owe EC$94 million to its staff.

The airline owes its staff an estimated EC$94 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) in severance and holiday payment, which it is unable to pay.

Thompson said that pilots are unhappy about the way they have been treated by the airline and are concerned that they have not yet been given any indication when they are likely to be paid severance and any other monies due.

Thompson said while he understood there was no doubt the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had played a role in the current circumstances facing the airline, he believed the situation may have given rise to a certain thought process of resetting labour contracts in various parts where management felt were too difficult to handle.

“I think it is an excuse for them,” he said, noting that pilots first learned about the loss of jobs through the media while LIALPA has been following protocols as much as possible by going to management first with its concerns and not to the media.

“We have followed that and look at how we have been dismissed. So that in itself is problematic,” he said, noting that in early April, the airline announced that it was suspending several services and laying off staff in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Further, Thompson said once LIAT is liquidated and a new airline formed, priority should be given to the laid off pilots for employment.

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