BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday January 30, 2012 – The prime ministers of the three major LIAT shareholder governments are today holding closed-door talks with unions on the future of the regional carrier.
The meeting at the Hilton Barbados involves this country’s Freundel Stuart, his Vincentian counterpart Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Antigua & Barbuda’s Baldwin Spencer.
The discussions are focused on a strategic plan developed for the airline by the Business Unit of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Senator Chester Humphrey, chairman of the regional grouping of trade unions representing LIAT workers, has described the meeting as a “symbolic charade” since unions only received copies of the plan days ahead of the meeting.
“How does that allow us to study the document, take professional advice and then come prepared to a meeting where we can make genuine and meaningful contributions,” he questioned, while accusing the airline’s management of disrespecting the unions.
“The unions are prepared for a partnership but that partnership must have a duality of respect,” he stated further.
LIAT has proposed staff cuts as it considers outsourcing some aspects of its operations.
This has been strongly resisted by unions; in November they refused to attend a meeting in Antigua requested by the airline’s management to discuss the proposal.
At that time, Senator Humphrey said the unions were not prepared to hold “any discussions on issues of mass termination of employees by reason of redundancy as an isolated matter”, citing the absence of a comprehensive restructuring plan.
The financially-troubled airline lost EC$21.5 million (US$ 7.9) during the first half of last year, reintroduced a fuel surcharge in August the same year due to the increasing price of fuel, closed its City Ticketing Offices across the region to save US$3 million annually, and offered workers voluntary severance and early retirement packages.