‘Compassionate’ payment to former LIAT staff locked in stalemate

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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said the terms and conditions outlined in a letter by the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) in response to his compassionate payment offer to former LIAT workers are unreasonable.

The offer is 50 percent of their severance to be paid in cash, land and bonds.

But in a letter obtained by Observer and addressed to LIAT’s administrator Cleveland Seaford, the ABWU said the proposal would only be accepted if it offers terminal benefits which include computed severance payments, outstanding vacation pay, and outstanding wages and salaries.

Furthermore, the union said an upfront cash component is the only logical and reasonable solution under current circumstances and should be given effect almost immediately.

Additionally, the union said the compassionate offer should not “and indeed does not represent the final and full claim of severance payments and other legitimate and legally entitled benefits of the employees”.

The ABWU said the compassionate payment would be considered an interim partial payment of the employees’ full entitlements.

But Browne said over the weekend that the union has seemingly forgotten that LIAT is not operating under ordinary circumstances.

“They want all cash in the first instance and they are saying we have to pay them more money…now these people have to get real,” he said.

These are negotiations suiting to a viable company, continued a very irate Browne, “but LIAT is an entity that is going through liquidation and, from all indications, it is likely to be liquidated with the formation of a new LIAT so I don’t know where they going with that.” 

He said despite what was outlined in the union’s letter, the government’s offer remains on the table. 

“We are not in a position to increase our offer and certainly this idea that we pay cash and we pay all of it upfront, that is not on the cards,” he said.

The ABWU’s General Secretary David Massiah told Observer last week that the union had not rejected the government’s offer but had instead raised several questions and was awaiting a response from Seaford.

LIAT, which is currently under a court-approved administrator arrangement in Antigua and Barbuda, is being restructured in an effort to stave off liquidation.

The airline, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, owes millions of dollars in severance and other entitlements to terminated workers across the region.

Last year, Browne said that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and St Vincent to turn over their shares in LIAT to Antigua and Barbuda for EC$1 each.

LIAT operated its first flight to Dominica in November last year following a seven-month absence due to financial constraints exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. It has since been operating a limited schedule.

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