Caribbean Airlines first officer Rawloand Ashe, left, shares a light moment with fellow pilot Gordon Seemungal, after he flew on Flight BW607 from Georgetown, Guyana, on July 17, after T&T’s borders were reopened.

Caribbean Airline’s move to cut 79 pilots could be causing some turbulence, legally.

CAL yesterday announced its planned staff reduction had been cut from an initially projected 450 workers to 280.

But the Trinidad and Tobago Airline Pilots’ Association, which represents CAL’s pilots, said the move includes 79 pilots, among them 19 of the most senior and experienced ones. They were all issued termination notices yesterday.

And the Aviation Communication and Allied Workers Union representing other CAL workers – including trainee flight attendants who are being terminated – also believes the process was faulty.

ACAWU represents 600 employees, including flight attendants and ground staff.

The action has particularly affected TTALPA, whose 252 members last year took a 57 per cent pay cut to assist with cost-cutting measures in a bid to keep the airline steady when it was grounded.

This was after the country’s borders were closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TTALPA’s industrial relations consultant Gerard Pinard, in confirming the termination matter is headed for a legal challenge yesterday, said, “TTALPA will be seeking redress for this dishonest, arrogant and high handed action by an employer in these desperate times, where pilots will be forced on the breadline even after their unprecedented sacrifices on behalf of saving the national airline.”

Yesterday, CAL confirmed it had slashed the initial proposal of sending home 450 staff members to 280 after weeks of consultation and dialogue had taken place. The move was part of a planned restructuring of the airline after it was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the past five weeks, extensive discussions were held with employees and employee representatives in the various locations that Caribbean Airlines operates. The process was constructive and as a result, the number of employees to be separated is now 280 – significantly fewer than previously estimated. In addition, 99 employees will remain on temporary layoff for an extended period,” CAL said in the statement.

Impacted employees were being informed directly, with a 45-day notice period thereafter.

Apart from the 79 pilots, other sources said reduction also affects 46 trainee flight attendants.

TTALPA: Flagrant violation of agreement!

TTALPA consultant Pinard yesterday told Guardian Media, “In what must be one of the saddest days in the annals of industrial relations locally, CAL (yesterday) continued its ongoing assault on free and fair collective bargaining with TTALPA.

“In flagrant violation of the terms of its collective agreement with TTALPA, CAL (yesterday) issued termination notices to 79 of its pilots, including 19 of its most senior and experienced pilots, the latter group having been sent home permanently without any severance pay and in violation of their contracts of employment.”

Pinard added, “This despicable act on the part of CAL took place within 24 hours of a consultation meeting held with TTALPA on Thursday, during which both parties had given a commitment to review their respective positions regarding the possibility of exploring alternative methods for staff reduction, including Early Retirement, Voluntary Separation and Leave of Absence.

“It’s noteworthy that the collective agreement specifically mandates the company to utilise such other staff reduction methods before embarking on an involuntary redundancy exercise. Despite this, CAL has proceeded in abject bad faith to issue termination notices (yesterday) rather than continue discussions with a view to preserving jobs.

“CAL’s actions are all the more brutal given that pilots had agreed to forego more than half of their salaries for several months in an effort to assist the company through its cash flow difficulties, exacerbated recently by the border closures resulting from the pandemic and years of mismanagement. “

He said pilots are also owed significant sums as a result of unauthorised salary deductions and unpaid variable incentive payments over several years.

“As far as TTALPA is concerned, the consultations were a sham. TTALPA will be seeking legal advice.’’

Up to Thursday, Point Fortin MP Kennedy Richards, a CAL pilot, was reportedly flying the US route as normal – but awaiting word on his future with the airline.

ACAWU general secretary Peter Farmer said CAL wrote them last Friday stating consultations had concluded. He said he believed the process wasn’t transparent.

However, Farmer said there was no reply from CAL on ACAWU’s queries. Farmer believes CAL spoke to employees individually.