Thursday, December 08, 2011

More On LIAT Sickout

December 7, 2011 By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor,

Pilots at LIAT, a Caribbean airline, this week took action, crippling their employer with a sickout that cancelled at least 110 flights when their union leader was fired shortly after suggesting that pilots' pensions had been mismanaged and lost by the airline. Captain Michael Blackburn had worked for LIAT for more than 35 years and chaired the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA).

In November, Blackburn, as head of LIALPA, sent a letter to LIAT management stating that the carrier's decision to invest pilot pension funds into a now-failed investment program went against a court order and took place without consultation of company pilots. Blackburn also made public derogatory statements about the airline. Soon thereafter, the veteran captain was accused of a safety violation. Monday, he was dismissed. His fellow pilots responded, Tuesday, with a sickout action that cancelled nearly all LIAT flights. The union has vowed that the fight is not over.

In his letter, Blackburn said that a court had ordered the pilots' pension money to be paid into a provident fund. He said that because the carrier ignored the order and the pilots pensions were subsequently lost to a bad investment, the carrier should be held liable for all contributions to date, plus interest. Blackburn then found himself under investigation, according to the Antigua Observer, for allegedly ignoring instructions from air traffic controllers and forcing another aircraft to take emergency measures. Blackburn claimed no knowledge of the alleged incident and threatened legal action.

"If anybody makes any allegation against me that they can't prove, I am going to sue them. And I don't make idle threats," he said. During this timeframe, Blackburn also stated on a radio program that LIAT was less safe than it had been in years past, when it had fewer managers. Roughly one week after his comments, Blackburn was fired. LIAT published a press release on the firing, stating it took the action based on legal advice.

According to LIAT, Blackburn's efforts constituted "a deliberate attempt to bring the company into public disrepute." Union leaders believe the firing was punitive and based on Blackburn's actions while working in his capacity as a union leader. They are seeking immediate reinstatement of Blackburn. A coalition of unions has sent a letter to LIAT CEO Brian Challenger, stating that they will take any action necessary to achieve this objective.

LIAT Statement
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, December 07, 2011 – On Tuesday 6th December and Wednesday 7th December, members of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) called in sick throughout the LIAT network, effectively shutting down the company’s flight operations and stranding thousands of passengers throughout the region. On both days only one flight was able to operate moving from Antigua and Trinidad respectively.

This action was a response by LIALPA to the summary dismissal by LIAT of Captain Michael 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 behavior, 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.

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.

These actions can only hurt LIAT. 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.

We therefore 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.

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.
LIAT is one of the leading Caribbean airlines. It is owned by regional shareholders, with major shareholders being the Governments of Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. More information about LIAT may be found at

| Desmond L. Brown | Corporate Communications Manager | LIAT (1974) LTD | Head Office, Coolidge Business Complex | Sir George Walter Highway | Antigua | Telephone: +1 268 480 6222 | fax: +1 268 480 5638 | email: |

Labels: , ,