Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pilot strike looms: Caribbean Airlines served with 72-hour notice

Jamaican pilots employed to Caribbean Airlines (CAL) have served the company with a 72-hour notice of industrial action, saying that their patience has worn thin after their union has spent nearly three years trying to secure bargaining rights on their behalf.

The notice was served on CAL and Labor Minister Derrick Kellier on Tuesday by the law firm Ziadie Reid and Company, which represents the Jamaica Airline Pilots Association (JALPA).

At the heart of the dispute is the airline's insistence that all its pilots be represented by the Trinidad and Tobago Airline Pilots Association (TTALPA).

However, the Jamaican pilots are maintaining that they cannot be represented by a union outside of Jamaica.

The pilots' position is based on legal advice they have received. Their case is strengthened by the fact that TTALPA has twice -- in November 2010 and September 2011 -- made it clear in writing that they have "absolutely no objection" to JALPA being voluntarily recognized as the bargaining agent for the pilots employed at CAL's Jamaica base.

The law firm, in its letters serving the notice to CAL and Kellier, pointed out that JALPA first wrote to the airline, in which the Trinidad and Tobago Government owns a majority stake, on December 12, 2011 claiming bargaining rights for the Jamaican pilots.

Two days later, the pilots' union sent copies of the claim and other relevant forms to the Ministry of Labour.

The law firm said that the permanent secretary in the ministry acknowledged receipt of the forms on January 17, 2012 and advised them that the minister was taking steps to review the matters raised and would shortly inform them of his decision.

The pilots were subsequently invited to a meeting at the ministry set for July 19, but it was rescheduled for July 31 due to the inability of CAL representatives to attend.

Since then, the pilots have been trying to get the carrier to accept JALPA as their union.

They pointed out that, in December 2012, the labor ministry informed them that the advice of the attorney general was being sought in relation to their case.

"In the months of January and February 2013, we wrote to the ministry with respect to the attorney general's advice and received no response," the pilots' lawyers said in their letter to Kellier.

"In the month of March, a discussion was held with the Ministry of Labor and they suggested that we seek the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the lawyers said.

That was done via a letter dated March 14, 2013 sent to the minister outlining the various issues and a timeline of events since JALPA applied for bargaining rights in December 2011.

However, they said they received no response from the foreign minister.

The pilots said they then raised their concerns in a May 12, 2013 letter to the minister of transport and works. However, the matter remains unresolved and they spent the next six months "in a futile attempt to prompt the Ministry of Labor to take action".

The lawyers, in their letter, also said that the labor ministry has refused to refer the matter to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal.

Attempts by the Jamaica Observer to get comments from Kellier and CAL were not successful.

In their letter, the lawyers said that they "have tried every relevant government agency and minister that could possibly influence this matter with no result".

"We have shown remarkable patience throughout this ordeal, but our patience is at an end," they added.

Said one JALPA official yesterday: "To date, we have been unable to get a reason why we can't be represented by our pilots. If we had been given a reason we could either accept it or challenge it."

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