Ex-LIAT staff told accepting government’s offer could lead to full compensation

LIALPA President Patterson Thompson and Antigua and Barbuda PM Gaston Browne (file photos)
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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

As tensions between the government of Antigua and Barbuda and former LIAT employees continue to heighten, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has suggested that the staff could receive their full compensation, starting with accepting the offer proposed by his administration.

Since more than 90 percent of the airline’s staff were temporarily then permanently laid off in April 2020, they have been calling for their complete severance and other entitlements, totalling nearly EC$120 million.

The Antigua and Barbuda government has partially responded to that call, offering the staff a ‘compassionate payment’, while maintaining that they have no legal obligation to compensate, as the company is currently under administration.

The government has been going back-and-forth with the unions and other representatives of the former LIAT staff about that compassionate offer – 50 percent of the severance owed – but the workers are adamant that they deserve more, despite the poor financial state of the airline.

As part of their efforts to retrieve what they believe they’re owed, they have also urged the other shareholder governments – Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines – to join with their Antigua and Barbuda counterpart to reach a collective agreement.

Just yesterday, Patterson Thompson, President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) and one of the affected employees, reiterated that request on behalf of his grouping and the wider LIAT ex-staff.

“What I want [PM Browne] to do for me is to call the other three prime ministers, because I can’t get through to Miss [Mia] Mottley up to now. I would like the PM to use his position, because he always said that he and Miss Mottley have a good relationship, to call her for me and ask her what she can do for the other 50 percent, between herself, [St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit],” Thompson appealed.

PM Browne then responded to Thompson’s appeal, while both were speaking on Observer AM, calling on the former LIAT staff to accept his government’s offer with the promise of potentially receiving their full compensation via cooperation from the other shareholders.

“I believe that we’ll be in a better position if [the former LIAT staff] were to accept our offer…if we’re unable to settle our offer, what moral authority would I have to go and speak with any other prime minister?

“Settle our issue firstly, which will give me the kind of negotiating capacity that I could ask my colleagues to cooperate,” the PM urged.

So far, some former LIAT employees have received indications of support in their plight from the shareholder governments.

The Dominican PM assured those in his country late last year that his government was looking at different options, including direct cash investments, to resolve some of the issues and assist the staff.

In June this year as well, former LIAT staff in Barbados received a one-off gift of $2,000 from the Mottley-led administration and were awaiting an additional $2,000-per-month stipend that was also promised.

“I’ve already spoken to at least two prime ministers who would have indicated that they’re willing to pay off all of their citizens.

“So, if [the former LIAT employees] accept our 50 percent and they get another 30/40 percent from the government of Barbados, maybe 10 percent from Dominica [and] 10 percent from St Vincent and the Grenadines – and you may have a few other countries that are willing to settle the liability for their staff – then they can achieve that $120 million,” PM Browne explained.

Browne also reiterated that the offer is non-negotiable, telling the ex-LIAT staff representatives to accept it or try their hand through the legal route.  

“This idea that they’re going to be confrontational and to argue with the government of Antigua and Barbuda for a superior compassionate offer, that is absolutely ridiculous.

“What needs to happen is that the various associations [and] the various unions need to come together, represent the staff properly and stop arguing with the government that has gone the extra mile to provide a settlement when there is no legal liability.

“Our offer is superior to any legal judgement that they could have gotten against the government and if we have extended a superior offer to you, then what is your argument? You’re wasting our time…you either accept [the offer] or go to court. We’re having no further negotiations with you,” he asserted.

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