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LIAT and pilots headed for new showdown

In the midst of celebrations to mark its 60th anniversary, the struggling regional carrier LIAT and the union representing its pilots appear to be once again headed for a showdown that could result in the grounding of flights and even more inconvenience to passengers.

At issue is what the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) said was “stalling and delaying tactics” by the airline in response to the union’s call for accounting information regarding the pilots’ retirement funds.

LIALPA said it had been trying unsuccessfully for the past three years to get LIAT to provide the information and as recently as December last year, the company refused to respond to proposals from its attorney.

The union is now demanding that LIAT honours the request, failing which it could not guarantee the “cooperation and enthusiasm” of members – a phrase LIALPA has used in the past to warn of pending industrial action.

“We demand nothing less than a company that conducts its business in a transparent and accountable manner. This would ensure the continued cooperation and enthusiasm the pilots have shown to the company in the face of this ongoing three-year-old ordeal,” LIALPA said.

But the airline responded to LIALPA, today saying it “categorically denies any wrongdoing” in the way it has responded to the union’s requests.

“The Pension Plan is currently the subject of four court actions and LIAT respects that the issue is sub judice . . . . LIAT also adheres to the process for the resolution of grievances set out in the collective agreement which does not include the airing of such grievances in the public,” the company said in a statement.

The airline said LIAT staff commenced contributions to a new plan for all employees in 2006; and by agreement, had selected CLICO as the deposit administrator.

It added that most employees, including members of LIALPA, had signed authorization forms for payroll deductions.

In 2009, due to the circumstances affecting the viability of CLICO, pension contributions to CLICO were discontinued and deposits were made into an escrow account, it said.

However, LIALPA has indicated its desire to establish its own plan and took action in 2014 to challenge LIAT’s decision to open the escrow account. That application for an injunction was dismissed.

LIAT said trustees of the pension plan subsequently sought guidance from the Court concerning LIALPA’s request to segregate and have its own plan. These matters and two others are before the courts.

However, LIALPA issued a less-than-subtle threat, stating that the public should be made aware of the three-year-old problem, “the defiance and unreasonableness” of LIAT’s management, and the decreasing patience of pilots.

“LIALPA’s leadership continues to contain its pilots’ angst and skepticism, but we can only do so much when the company remains defiant in activities contrary to Court Decisions and contrary to transparency and accountability,” it warned.

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