Tuesday, April 16, 2024

EDITORIAL: Public caught in the crossfire

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IN EVERY RELATIONSHIP, when contentious issues are left unresolved, they tend to fester and worsen until they sometimes spawn violence. And in that explosion, innocent bystanders can get hurt.This week’s two-day strike by LIAT’s pilots was such an occurrence. It affected more than 6 500 passengers across the region by grounding 244 scheduled flights, and cost the carrier in excess of BDS$2 million.It brought to a head months of claims and counterclaims, veiled threats and assurances. The pilots, represented by their union, the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association, stayed off the job to press LIAT’s management to settle a number of outstanding grouses, which they argue had been left to linger for too long.They have been demanding that LIAT “pay all monies that are owed due to illegal deductions made from salaries; settle all retroactive public holiday payments; address concerns about the status of current pension deductions and sign off on a new contract immediately following the arbitration judgment” reportedly from December 2007.Those affected most were the people of the region who depend on LIAT to transport them and their cargo swiftly and safely across the length and breadth of these separate island nations.Some were stranded with little means of taking care of themselves. There were heartbreaking stories as unprepared travellers were left at airports with not enough money to seek further accommodation; or in some cases with young children – some with special needs; or in danger of losing their jobs, having not reported for work for two consecutive days.   Their anger boiled over as LIAT declared they were not responsible for their welfare. Though the airline may be on solid legal ground, the usual practice of international airlines of meeting the needs of their clients whenever extraordinary circumstances occur, created an expectation that LIAT would treat these stranded passengers similarly. As this was not done, people’s confidence in the airline was shaken – and they said this loudly. As a near-monopoly, LIAT may not immediately feel the public’s anger at this policy, but it can eventually come back to haunt them.It’s a pity it all came to this. Air travel is too vital a link to the region’s commercial life and economic integration for such a situation to ever be allowed to happen again.Caribbean people travel on LIAT not only for their personal enjoyment, but also because the nature of their work requires them to travel within the region. And as has been recognised at the highest political and economic levels, regional integration cannot be meaningful without reliable inter-regional transportation.For us the issue is not about whether the pilots were right to call in sick, or if LIAT’s management is right in their attitude. Our concern is primarily with the message continually sent across the region about solving disputes. That is, allowing acrimonious matters to go unattended for a prolonged period until a major strike forces an aggrieved party to take drastic action, thereby catching the public in the crossfire.Solving disputes before they become dangerously drawn out is in everyone’s interest.We sincerely hope that those involved in the protracted dispute between the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union and the principal of the Alexandra School will take note, and settle that matter before that, too, erupts in a strike in September when school is reconvened.

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