(eTN) – Many Caribbean travelers were stranded at regional airports on Wednesday as a result of a sick-out by LIAT crew. Management of the Antigua-based airline said that most of its cabin crew called in sick resulting in widespread dislocation as many flights to its destinations were cancelled with the remainder operating under significant delays.
“Efforts to contact the Flight Attendant Association have proven to be futile and no reason has as yet been given to the airline for the steps taken,” LIAT spokesperson Penny Richards said in a release from the airline’s Barbados office. “If the action goes forward delays are inevitable as the airline seeks to rectify the problem.”
The industrial action comes shortly on the heels of a warning from the intra regional carrier to Caribbean travelers to expect some turbulence in regional air travel over the busy Christmas period as a result of a shortage in aircraft. The action was taken after they received no word from management on a letter sent recently giving a December 15 deadline to address a number of grievances.
LIAT is owned by regional shareholders, with the major shareholders being the governments of Barbados, Antigua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The three governments raised a US$60 million loan from the Caribbean Development Bank to facilitate the payment of debts and acquisition of the assets from Caribbean Star, which was owned by Antigua-based American millionaire Allen Stanford.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, said that flight attendants were ill advised about taking such action, while pointing out that the action had practically crippled the airline. “Stanford was not able to remove LIAT from the sky but 25 flight attendants were being able to achieve this,” he said, while giving the assurance that the leader of the trade union that represents LIAT’s workers promised him that the cabin crew will be out today.
LIAT management described the sickout as being “completely unjustified.” LIAT CEO Mark Darby said no official reason has been given for the action staged by 24 of the scheduled 35 flight attendants who called in sick. Urging them to report for duty on Thursday as normal he said that the intention is to solve the issue as quickly as possible.
“We do have the support of our shareholder governments to take strong action on this. They are very, very upset and they’ve asked me to convey the strength of their feeling about this action,” said Darby, who confirmed that the airline has hired a small group of contract crews to help us with the Christmas period. “This is to make sure that we had enough crew to mount the operation and we discussed that with the flight attendants’ association (Leeward Islands Flight Attendants Association) and we’ve reached an agreement with them.
“As far as we’re concerned there’s nothing that should have provoked this action and certainly we’ve not been made aware of any particular action that should have resulted in this today,” Darby said yesterday.