The sickout has disrupted the airline’s morning flights, and the company said those scheduled for later in the day could be affected as well.
The pilots are demanding the immediate reinstatement of their colleague Captain Michael Blackburn, who has worked with the airline for more than 35 years, and also chairs the Leeward Islands Pilots Association (LIALPA).
Blackburn was informed Monday, the day he was fired, that this was due to inappropriate statements he made to the local media about management and airline safety.
LIALPA said the action is “unprecedented” since the chairman was speaking as a trade unionist at the time.
“Captain Blackburn was not afforded the opportunity to confirm or deny these charges. The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code speaks to the procedures for dismissals of employees and the laws of nature justice were not followed,” the group said in a media release.
“LIALPA insists that LIAT (1974) Ltd rescind the letter of termination of employment to Captain Michael Blackburn and reinstate him with immediate effect. LIALPA is requesting assistance of the other unions in this process.”
That call has been answered by the body that represents all LIAT unions, which is also demanding the “immediate and complete withdrawal” of Blackburn’s termination and his full reinstatement.
“We are prepared to take any and all actions necessary to achieve this objective and the pilots are assured of our collective solidarity,” stated Chester Humphrey, head of the coalition of unions, in a letter to LIAT CEO Brian Challenger.
The industrial action resulted in disruptions and cancellations of the airline’s 110 daily flights on Tuesday.
Chairman of the LIAT shareholder governments, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, said the sickout is putting the financially-struggling airline at risk of losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
“You don’t close down an airline because a pilot has been dismissed…The pilots are shooting themselves in the feet,” Gonsalves said on a local radio station.
“LIAT is already, as a financial operation, marginal. It does a tremendous essential service across the region. … The pilots have to be responsible. You don’t pull a sickout; you don’t pull a strike in circumstances where, essentially, you have an essential service,” Gonsalves said.
The governments of Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines are the majority shareholders in the Antigua-based airline.
As a result of the action, LIAT said customers who wish to rebook can do so without charge for up to a week from the date of their original scheduled travel.