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Antigua & Barbuda: War of words over payments for ex-LIAT workers

March 17, 2023

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers (ABWU) is calling on the government to re-think its hardened position regarding the full payment of severance benefits to former employees of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT (1974) Limited.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking in Parliament informed the union that his administration was no longer prepared to meet bilaterally to discuss the issue and that efforts should be made to include the other shareholder governments of the airline.

The major shareholders of the Antigua-based airline, which entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Well I want to say to them (union)  today, definitively that if we have any such legal obligation take us to court. And I also want to state here too we are not having any further bilateral engagement with the ABWU,” Browne said.

“If you want to engage us get all of the regional governments together, the four governments and let us decide on a way forward because I find that they have literally abused our benevolence,” Browne added.

But, ABWU general secretary, David Massiah said the government has an obligation to the former airline workers.

“Mr. Prime Minister anyone with a good conscience that it is morally correct and most natural  for the government to make every effort to achieve a reasonable settlement that involves respectful dialogue with the union, the legal and lawful representative of the workers of LIAT (1974) Limited..

“We are urging you again, Mr. Prime Minister  to put aside all prejudice and prioritise the 600 plus workers and their families who have been severely disadvantaged by your administration’s uncaring actions,” Massiah added.

He questioned by the prime minister “is so adverse to meeting with the unions on the matter of severance for the former employees of LIAT (1974) Limited.

“Prime Minister Browne when and how have the workers of LIAT so offended you that you would do anything within your power to deprive them of their just claim for severance and other terminal benefits.

“It is obscene and bewildering that as a prime minister…you would have such disdain for workers,” Massiah said, adding “Prime Minister Browne you do not get to close the door on this LIAT matter.

“Rest assured that the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union will pursue this administration and any other administration for that matter and will use every option available to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement for the workers of LIAT,” said Massiah.

The former LIAT workers, including pilots, have been demanding the million of dollars (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) owed in severance and other benefits.

In January, the St. Lucia government made good on its promise to pay compensation to former employees of the cash-strapped regional airline, with Labour Minister Dr. Virginia Albert-Poyotte advising them to use the benefits wisely.

The former local LIAT employees received bond certificates from the government and are cash redeemable and can also be used as collateral to secure loans

In 2021, the Antigua and Barbuda government offered two million EC dollars to partially satisfy the cash component of the compassionate payout to former LIAT workers here.

Last week, Browne said his island seems to be on its own with regards to the establishment of a new company to replace LIAT (1974) Limited that collapsed in 2020.

The Antigua-based LIAT (1974) Limited, entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

LIAT, prior to entering into administration had been servicing several regional destinations and has since scaled down its operations and is now servicing Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten.

Last month, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders ended their 44th regular summit in the Bahamas, nowhere closer to solving the woes being experienced by regional travellers following the collapse of the intra-regional airline, LIAT, in 2020.

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