Do the right thing

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We are quite pleased to hear that our government is acknowledging that “a moral obligation exists to pay severance to former LIAT employees throughout the countries where LIAT once operated.” All well and good. We are now urging it to make good on that obligation as a matter of urgency. These are extremely tough times, and it is not a stretch to imagine that the LIAT workers have already exhausted whatever savings they had set aside for a rainy day.
Of course, we’d heard the cries of the LIAT workers, many of whom complained that their plight was being ignored by the current LIAT authorities. We felt that these workers were being given short shrift, what with the haste made to put the airline back in the skies, even as the severed workers languished without the monies due them. To add insult to injury was the recent announcement that it is costing LIAT some. EC$500K per month to keep the airplanes flying. To be sure, in the ordinary scheme of things, that is not an enormous amount of money for an airline,
but these are hardly ordinary times or ordinary circumstances. To our minds, and those of many of the displaced and out-of-pocket workers, it was an abrogation of that “moral obligation” to make them whole, albeit with a haircut. It was a misplacement of priorities. After
all, what was the inordinate haste in putting the airline back in the sky, especially in these financially tough
circumstances brought about by Covid-19? Was it vanity? A desire to prove a point? We mean, who would be filling the LIAT passenger seats?
People need money to fly, and money is hard to come by on account of businesses cutting hours or shutting down entirely. Lay-offs and redundancies are now the order of the day. Flying is just not something that Caribbean people are doing at this moment, never mind for the foreseeable future. Moreover, in this new paradigm, people are increasingly conducting business and staying in touch with family and friends by way of assorted new-age communications platforms. Indeed, we are suggesting that working from home and conducting business from one’s domicile will be the wave of the future, even after Covid is past.
Consider the following eyebrow-raising item in our 5:30 pm newscast yesterday. “Two months after moving in to fill the void left by regional airline LIAT, Air Antilles has suspended its Eastern Caribbean operations, with dreams of opening up a gateway to Europe now deferred. The French-based carrier said in a statement that it had taken the decision because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes as a result of even more restrictive measures between Paris and its home base in the French West Indies, as well as increased travel protocol restrictions in the Caribbean islands because of the Covid pandemic.” Hmmm! Seems, Air Antilles is cutting its losses and grounding its service to Barbados, Dominica and St Lucia, because it has no money to fritter away. We think that the directors of Air Antilles have made the right call.
We have suggested that a similarly prudent course of action on LIAT’s part would have been to restructure the airline, as has been done by the Administrator, but keep the fleet grounded until such time as the aircraft can take to the skies and break even financially. (Our Prime Minister’s LIAT restructuring plan does not envisage a profit for LIAT until perhaps its second year of operation, all things being equa). As it stands, LIAT is burning through money, and our government is footing the bill all by its lonesome, for no good reason, and the former employees are living on fumes. It hurts to the quick!
Hopefully, a number of deep-pocketed private investors will step up to partner with our government. We have heard that there has been some level of private interest in investing in LIAT, but last we checked, there have been no takers. Our government cannot go it alone indefinitely. We have been told by those in high places that the monies currently being spent on LIAT were funds already set aside by our government for just such a purpose. Nonetheless, those monies will eventually dry up at the current rate of expenditure, and barring some sort of meaningful
partnership, we will eventually have to throw in the towel.
Anyway, to get back to the point. According to the Cabinet notes of this past Wednesday, January 20, 2021, “The government of Antigua and Barbuda will make a special plea to all regional governments, through the Administrator appointed by the Court under the amended bankruptcy law, to make payments to their nationals after negotiations with the several unions that represented the LIAT workers. In addition to payments in cash and other systems of value, the Antigua and Barbuda government will be offering scholarships to UWI Fourth Landed Campus to nationals who once worked for LIAT here, in order to enable them to re-tool.” Great!
Get on with it! The severed LIAT workers are suffering. And yes, while the idea to grant scholarships to Antiguans and Barbudans who once worked for LIAT is a step in the right direction, it will not solve their immediate finiancial problems.
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