By Orville Williams
The hundreds of former LIAT employees still awaiting millions of dollars in compensation are again urging the airline’s shareholder governments to reach an agreement to pay them what they are owed.
A petition launched in May this year to support the fight for the workers’ severance and other entitlements has since surpassed 2,000 signatures and, just yesterday, former workers based in Barbados delivered a copy of the petition to that country’s parliament.
According to reports, the monies owed to the ex-LIAT employees total nearly EC$120 million, but they have been repeatedly told that it is unlikely they will be able to receive the full sum that is owed to them.
The carrier – which has served the region for several decades – was forced to temporarily shutter its operations at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic before being placed into administration when plans to liquidate its assets were abandoned.
Since March 2020, the embattled workers scattered across the region have been struggling financially, and have made numerous appeals for a resolution.
While a few of the former workers have secured new employment, word is that the majority of those laid off are still reeling more than two years later.
“We have former colleagues that have had to flee the region and are living in basements and converted garages in places like Canada [and] Maryland in the United States. I just can’t understand it, because these are people who would have served and contributed to the region,” former LIAT pilot Captain Neil Cave told local media in Barbados.
He added that it’s not only the failure to reach a payment agreement that is drawing the ire of his colleagues, but the lack of proper communication on the whole issue.
“It’s full time that this issue be resolved, and not only that, we had promises of communication. At one point there was supposed to be a committee set up to deal with this [but] it was cancelled. And there was a promise by the Prime Minister to come back in 100 days to give us an update on where things stand.
“So, as difficult as it is not having or knowing when you’re going to be paid what you’re legally and morally entitled to, there’s no communication; that is equally as stressful,” he lamented.
To be fair, the majority of LIAT’s shareholder governments – which include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, and St Vincent and the Grenadines – have made efforts to support the employees based in their respective countries, whether through financial or social assistance.
Late last year, the Antigua and Barbuda government reportedly dispatched EC$2 million as a “compassionate payment” to the former employees based in the twin island nation, but that move was met with condemnation by the union representing the workers, which accused the administration of playing a “political game of chess” with the workers’ livelihoods.
Captain Cave further reminded that, despite the struggles being faced by his colleagues in Barbados, the issue remains a regional one and any agreement should be similarly inclusive.
“If Prime Minister [Mia] Mottley wants to advocate on this issue and encourage the other leaders to do the right thing, come up with a reasonable solution, because the Barbadians are [only] one set of affected former workers.
“There are hundreds of other people out there who are human beings that have to eat and breathe just like we do,” he said.
Cave also commended members of the media for “keeping [the fight] alive”, noting that “the only thing is to let the public know what is happening to people, how they’re faring, like being unable to pay for basic things”.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda has previously maintained that it can only offer the severed employees a ‘take it or leave it’ agreement of 50 percent of the monies owed, payable in cash, lands and bonds.