General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) Senator David Massiah also hinted strongly at industrial action.
“All the public has to do is to weigh in and give the sympathetic vote and maybe the travelling public might begin to protest to LIAT management and say ‘we will not fly with you until you settle your issues with the union’,” he said on Observer Radio recently.
The trade unionist said the workers themselves had told him they are prepared to take action.
“Whatever the next option would be, it’s one that we probably would not like because unions would have to begin to exercise options and then it would affect, more or less, the general public,” he said. “We have to do what we have to do…We will have to sit down as unions throughout the region and consider our options if LIAT is not going to respect the positions going forward.”
Senator Massiah and Chairman of the Regional Consultative Council of Trade Unions within the LIAT System Senator Chester Humphrey are outraged that the redundancy letters were sent to staff earlier this week, although the company was still in negotiations with the unions and had scheduled a meeting for today to discuss the same issue.
“I can’t see that we are seeking to have dialogue in a way to address certain problems and management continues to flex their muscle as they like,” Senator Massiah said.
However, in a statement issued after Massiah’s comments, LIAT said that it had been involved in discussions with the unions for over a year about the need to close the CTOs and insisted that “every effort is being made by the company to work with its union partners to facilitate the smoothest possible transition for employees at the LIAT CTOs during this period”.
“As has been the case to date, the company remains committed, as far as possible, to dialogue and cooperation with its employee representatives during this difficult period,” it said.
LIAT, which expects to save about US$3 million every year by closing the CTOs, said the move reflects the prevailing trend by airlines throughout the world, including the Caribbean, towards a shift in distribution and sales to telephone, travel agents and internet-based channels.
“The closure of the CTOs at this time is a reflection of the need for immediate cost cutting in the face of a continuing difficult regional and international economic situation which has seen significant falloffs in airline revenues at a time of escalating costs,” the statement said.
In addition to closing the CTOs, LIAT has implemented a company-wide Voluntary Separation and Early Retirement Programme which workers have to respond to by today (3rd June). The deadline was initially last Friday, a week after the offer was first made, but it was subsequently extended.
The unions had also expressed disappointment that they had not been informed that LIAT was sending the voluntary separation letters to staff, and that it happened days before a meeting to discuss that and the CTO closures. That meeting was postponed until today.
(Parts of this article were written with content submitted in a Caribbean360 release)