ABWU Secretary General reiterates regional governments must address severance issue in talks over LIAT revival

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Senator David Massiah (file photo)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

[email protected]

As Caribbean leaders once again reawaken to the value of a regional airline, Secretary General of the Antigua and Barbuda Worker’s Union (ABWU), Senator David Massiah continues to remind governments of their obligations to former LIAT workers who have been calling for their severance payments.

A week ago, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves criticised InterCaribbean Airways for its service, stating that he was awaiting proposals for a new LIAT.

Previously, government officials in Guyana, especially Aviation Minister Juan Edghill, also complained about the Turks and Caicos based airline.

Edghill said that senior government officials, as well as representatives of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, met with the representatives of the airline to address the issue, warning that they could face sanctions if its flights delays issues were not sufficiently alleviated.

This follows months of irritated Caribbean customers who complain of long flight delays, leading to frequent missing of international connecting flights, which has forced many to purchase new tickets for flights.

The resuscitation of LIAT had been a long-held push of the Antiguan and Barbudan government, who has long dealt with a lack of support by its former regional shareholding partner over financing LIAT 2020.

Additionally, the matter of severance payments to former LIAT workers who were dismissed during the demise of LIAT 1974 continues to be a sticking point among regional trade unions, particularly between the ABWU and the Antiguan government.

“From the union’s standpoint, it is interesting, and it must be known clearly that the Antigua and Barbuda Worker’s Union support any resuscitation of a real, viable air travel transport in the Caribbean region and clearly this will only be achieved with the assistance and involvement of the workers as well.

“But the clear indication for us is that, while the governments and leaders might be advocating for LIAT 2020, the issue of the former workers is still a very important part that has to be discussed and finalized,” Senator Massiah argued.

The administration led by Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the ABWU have long been at loggerheads over severance for Antiguan workers, as both have blamed the other for the lack of a compromise or agreement on the issue, stating that both had been using the issue as a ‘political football.’

Both Senator Massiah and Prime Minister Browne had given speeches during Parliamentary Budget debates on the matter earlier this year.

The Senator has long called for the court appointed administrator for LIAT to appear before the public to give an account of what has been happening with the airline since his appointment.

“It is troubling to us in the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union that we continue to call on the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda to ensure that [Cleveland] Seaforth, the LIAT administrator, at least declare to the public on the yielding of his administration over the last three years,” he said.

Senator Massiah also called on the administrator and the government to hold talks on establishing “proper” contracts for workers currently employed by LIAT 2020.

“We need to end this sort of charade and to really sit down to have plausible, reasonable discussions so that we can create an environment that is beneficial to all,” he explained.

LIAT (I974) Limited, whose main shareholders are the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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