The secretary treasurer of the Waterfront and Allied Workers Union (WAWU), Kertist Augustus, is throwing his support behind the initiative being undertaken by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne in reorganising the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
“I am hopeful that Mr. Browne will be able to pull that thing off because LIAT has made substantial contribution to the strengthening and consolidating of the Caribbean countries getting together and I think more so that is recognised by the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) governments,” he said.
Earlier this week, Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that Barbados and Vincent and the Grenadines government have agreed to sell their shares in LIAT to accommodate a new reorganizational plan outlined by ST. John’s.
Browne also announced that an agreement had been reached to sell three of the aircraft that had been acquired with funds provided by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
The other major shareholder government of the Antigua-based airline is Dominica.
According to the new reorganizational plan, a copy of which has been obtained by the CMC, Antigua and Barbuda is proposing re-investment of EC$108 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) with St. John’s indicating that under the new plan it is prepared to underwrite up to 50 per cent of the required capitalization.
“The new capital invested during reorganization will be protected, in that it will rank in priority above all other creditors in the unlikely event of liquidation,” it said, noting that the remaining EC$54 million to be shared by other private and public sector entities, including existing shareholder governments.
Augustus, whose union represents LIAT workers here, said that he supports the initiative to re-organise the airline, given LIAT’s role in the regional integration movement in past years.
“We have been critical in areas where we have found them wanting and we have spoken of that. The fact that LIAT took the decision to engage the representatives of the workers through the unions on a regular basis is an indication that they recognise that we have a contribution to make”.
Prime Minister Browne said the re-organised LIAT (I974) limited would be different from a restructured entity “where you restructuring to sustain debts but you have no deep cuts
“In a reorganised LIAT, creditors will be asked to take a cut up to 100 per cent in some instances, but on average about 50 per cent. The staff we expect, a 50 per cent reduction in the staff liabilities because if they go to liquidation they will be lucky to get 10 per cent,” he said.
Augustus said that he is not yet certain what the implications would be for workers regarding the decision by Bridgetown and Kingstown to sell their shares in LIAT.
“One proposal already is that from their payments they should be prepared to take a haircut of 50 per cent and that amount could be converted into shares on behalf of the workers.
“I would support such because it would mean that you now have a say in the operations of LIAT through the shares that you have. If the workers could come together they could in fact have a director sitting on the board that could advance their position,” said Augustus, a former senior official of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL).