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LIAT Airlines employees campaign for better wages, 2007-2010
Between July 2007 and June 2010, workers of LIAT Airlines, which is based in Antigua and Barbuda, protested against their employers for better wages and holiday pay. The campaign was a back and forth struggle between LIAT Airlines and multiple Caribbean governments on one side, and the flight attendants and pilots of LIAT Airlines on the other. The employees relied mainly on strikes and sick-ins throughout the campaign whenever the authorities did not meet their demands.
By July of 2007, LIAT pilots had already been negotiating for a ten-year contract for the past three years. On the 28th and 29th, 20 airline pilots participated in a go-slow strike that severely hampered LIAT’s ability to operate. They threatened further action the following weekend, but refrained from any more strikes after a mediation involving the Antiguan President.
On October 18, 2008, LIAT pilots held another strike that lasted a day. On December 7, LIAT flight attendants called in sick en masse, crippling the airline. As the holiday period approached, the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) lobbied the government for increased holiday pay, which currently existed for most Antiguan workers, but not airline pilots. On the 22nd, air traffic controllers performed a disguised slowdown strike that caused congestion at the V.C. Bird International Airport in St. John’s. LIALPA threatened further action, but mediation beginning on Christmas Eve, involving the Antiguan Attorney General, instituted a 28-day “cool off” period and diffused the situation until after the New Year. On January 6, 2009, however, air traffic controllers held another go-slow strike. Two months later, unrest among employees caused LIAT to cancel its flights to Guadeloupe.
In early April, a rumor emerged that LIAT was planning to give its executives big bonus. This sent LIALPA into an uproar. LIALPA Chairman Michael Blackburn condemned the bonuses, and demanded that they not be given out.
In mid-April, both sides agreed to a binding arbitration to settle their pay dispute. LIALPA wanted a thirty percent pay increase, while LIAT only offered two. LIALPA agreed not to strike following the beginning of arbitration.
On May 22, flight crews performed another sick-in, severely slowing down airline traffic all over the Caribbean. The next day the Antigua and Barbuda Industrial Court launched an injunction against LIAT employees preventing them from striking or performing go-slows.
On July 21, LAIT pilots voluntarily attended a meeting with Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to sort out the dispute between LIALPA and the LIAT executives, but Blackburn stood firm in that LIALPA would not meet with LIAT management until the injunction was lifted, which happened after a meeting involving LIALPA, Prime Minister David Thompson of Barbados, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
Following the lifting of the injunction, LIALPA did not perform any direct actions for almost an entire year, but continued to be frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations. Beginning on June 16, 2010, following a week of accusations from both sides, all LIAT pilots reported sick after LIAT management failed to retract a statement before a deadline set by LIALPA. The strike grounded all of LIAT’s flights for the next two days. LIAT claimed that it had reached an agreement with LIALPA regarding wages earlier, but LIAT denied this claim, proclaiming the strike’s legitimacy. The strike ended two days later.
The campaign succeeded in attaining some of its goals, but not all of them. LIAT management gave workers a small pay raise, but striking workers in Grenada were all fired and replaced by foreign workers.