Prime Minister Gaston Browne has once again put on full display his contempt and disregard for workers in Antigua and Barbuda, and in particular, the former and current employees of LIAT (1974) Ltd. During his regular radio broadcast this past weekend, the Prime Minister unleashed a most despicable display of arrogance and condescending rhetoric in his continued attempt to bully and ultimately silence the cries of the workers of LIAT.
As General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union, I, David Massiah, wish to make it abundantly clear to the Prime Minister that this Union will not rest until the workers of LIAT receive just compensation for the termination of their services. The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union also makes this solemn promise to the workers of Liat, that with their unwavering support, we will pursue this matter with the full weight of our resources to secure a fair and reasonable settlement.
Much of the Prime Minister’s comments this weekend were intended to create confusion and anxiety in the minds of the former LIAT workers. While the Prime Minister misses no opportunity to gloat that his government has skillfully escaped legal liability for severance, we wish to remind him that there is no escaping the fact that this Government — as a shareholder of LIAT (1974) Ltd — has a moral, if not total legal obligation to reach a reasonable settlement with the LIAT workers.
Most recently, the Government of Barbados has demonstrated its acceptance of this moral obligation by satisfying the former LIAT workers in that country with an ex gratia payment equivalent to the sum due to them as a consequence of the termination of their employment.
But the Gaston Browne Administration, on the other hand, believes that the workers in Antigua and Barbuda are undeserving of a fair settlement, to the extent that the Prime Minister is now proudly announcing that his Government’s so-called “compassionate offer” has now been reduced from 50% of severance to 32%, with threats of a complete withdrawal should the workers continue to lobby for a more reasonable settlement. We condemn this disgraceful and cavalier handling of the entitlements of these workers! The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union reiterates its call for 100% severance settlement, to be comprised of a majority cash component and the remainder possibly organized as bonds and shares in any future derivative of LIAT (1974).
The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union is also gravely concerned about the handling of the Administration of LIAT. This process has been shrouded in secrecy and seems to be operating on an indefinite timeline. This is unacceptable! It has been almost three years since the airline entered into Administration and our organization has been deliberately kept in the dark despite our
significant stake in the outcome of this process.
If the Prime Minister is genuinely interested in the well-being of the workers (as he claims to be), then why hasn’t this process been more transparent? Is there something that the Prime Minister wishes to conceal from the Union and the workers? Perhaps this is the reason why the Prime Minister has been so vehemently opposed to dialogue with the Union and the workers for over two years.
There are many lingering questions surrounding this Administration process that we wish to reiterate: 1) What is the current status of the Administration by Cleveland Seaforth? 2) Have any reports been forthcoming as required by the governing legislation? 3) Importantly, has the Administrator been informing the Court of his progress and seeking the necessary time/date extensions for his continuing functioning? 4) Considering the fact that the Barbados Government has decided to pay its LIAT employees their severance entitlement, what exactly are this government’s proposals, and how soon will these be effected?
In an attempt to shift the spotlight from these glaring questions, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has resorted to accusing the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union of playing politics with the LIAT severance matter. However, it is the Prime Minister who has repeatedly sought to drag this matter into the sphere of politics. The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union has always existed to defend the rights of workers, while the Prime Minister on the other hand, is primarily a political actor. This Union has a long track record of securing justice for workers. Most notably, the case of the Half Moon Bay employees should serve as a reminder of the ABWU’s relentless zeal which ultimately secured severance for those workers after almost seven years. What kept this Union focused during that fight was our sacred belief that workers’ rights are human rights and that severance is a right that must be respected and administered fairly!
As we have advised the Prime Minister on countless occasions, the only way to resolve the LIAT severance, and other related matters, is through genuine dialogue with the legally recognized Bargaining Agent for the employees — The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union. The Prime Minister’s unilateral approach to this matter WILL NOT WORK and is certainly not the right posture for resolving the broader question of regional travel. Hon. Prime Minister, this high handed and inconsiderate behaviour is unacceptable!
Again, we call for dialogue and reasonableness, so that we can bring closure to the suffering that the workers of LIAT have been experiencing for almost three years.