Trinidad: Pilots Resigning As State Moves To Decertify Union

(TT GUARDIAN) – Caribbean Airlines (CAL) pilots are reportedly resigning in droves as the state-owned carrier has filed an industrial relations offence against the T&T Airline Pilots Association (TTALPA) which a source says will decertify the union if successful.

The source said the pilots are frustrated over the lawsuit filed on August 20 following a sickout that left thousands of CAL passengers stranded from August 20 to August 21. The Industrial Court granted the airline an injunction on August 21 to force pilots to return to work.

A source at TTALPA, who provided a list of names on the condition of anonymity, said 15 pilots had resigned in the last year and 25 others quit over the last three years due to the strained relationship between CAL’s management and the union. The situation, the official said, will likely get worse.

“CAL and the government need to cancel the industrial relations offence that they have against the pilots’ union. They need to cancel that because how could you want to work with the pilots if you’re trying to decertify the union? That means the pilots will have no rights, no workers rights as represented by a union, for the first time in 60 years.”

There are concerns that at least 60 more pilots are set to resign from CAL after renewing their United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licences which permits them to fly in the US.

As a result, TTALPA’s council is deliberating on whether the union should activate its employment agency clause to assist them in finding alternative employment.

“The starting salary of an American Airlines captain now is US$40,000 a month. The starting salary of a first-year captain in Caribbean Airlines is TT$56,000. So, let’s say that’s about US$8,000. There’s a lot of benefits. People who never thought about leaving actually putting things in place to go,” the source said.

According to the Industrial Relations Act, under section 66 subsection (2), an employer or a worker carrying on or engaged in an essential service shall not take industrial action in connection with said service. If found guilty, the parties involved are liable on summary conviction to a fine of $40,000 and to imprisonment for three years.

A worker who contravenes subsection (2) is liable to a $1,000 fine on summary conviction and to imprisonment for six months. Moreover, a trade union or other organisation that causes industrial action in an essential service or persuades any worker to do so faces a $20,000 fine. The Industrial Relations Board may also cancel the certificate of recognition.

The union’s management can be fined $10,000 and be jailed for a year if found guilty. They can also be disqualified from holding office in any trade union or other organisation for a period of five years after conviction. A non-office holder can be fined $2,000 and be imprisoned for two years.

TTALPA officials have denied taking strike action as it is illegal for pilots to do so. They are reportedly upset with CAL over its failure to bring the collective agreement, which expired about nine years ago, up to date.

There have been calls for CAL’s CEO Garvin Medera and Human Resource Manager Roger Berkley to resign.

Contacted for comment, CAL’s Corporate Communications Manager Dionne Ligour said information about resignations would be provided by today.

Efforts to contact Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning were unsuccessful.