By Latrishka Thomas
A class action suit filed against LIAT (1974) by a Barbadian pilot employee regarding a row over pension payments dating back several years was blocked by Antigua’s High Court on Tuesday.
A legislative amendment recently passed by the Antigua and Barbuda government which bars legal action being taken against the ailing airline was cited as the reason.
Captain Neil Cave, who filed the claim on behalf of nine other pilots in 2015, told Observer that in a judgement handed down via Zoom, the decision was taken to stop the trial from going forward.
The LIAT workers claim that in around 2006 the airline began to deduct monies from their salaries amounting to around $5 million, and put it into CLICO International Life Insurance as a pension for pilots.
“The fact really is that we did not authorise LIAT to deduct these monies from our salaries for anything else other than the existing providence fund at the time, certainly not be placed into CLICO under the guise of a pension,” Cave asserted.
In fact, he claimed that no pension was ever set up.
Cave and the other claimants therefore sought to recover the money with the understanding that Section C34 of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code refers to the act as an offence.
But he revealed that on Tuesday – which was supposed to be the first day of a two-day trial – LIAT contended that the new Antigua and Barbuda Companies Amendment Act “does not allow anybody to take any form of legal or judicial action against LIAT 1974 Ltd while this order that they would have received couple of weeks ago is in place”.
The pilot explained, “There is legislation saying that retroactively that my access to the court, even though I had a trial date, is lost.”
LIAT argued on the basis that an order was issued to bar creditors from acting against LIAT while it is in administration.
However, Cave believes that such an order is unconstitutional because it is retroactive.
“To stop people from the legal machinery of the court and being able to access due process,” he said.
He explained that he and the other employees merely wanted their matter to be heard after five years of waiting.
“All I wanted was a hearing to tell me if I then become a creditor. In which case I am fine with that. I know I cannot while LIAT is in administration for the next 90 days or 120 days, I know I cannot collect any judgement,” Cave remarked.
Cave said that he is also concerned about how the order and the Companies Amendment Act 2020 will affect others.
“LIAT is still flying, LIAT goes to Grenada and heaven forbid somebody should hit their head or have a slip and fall does this mean that that individual cannot bring an action?” he questioned.
The pilot therefore revealed that he will be taking the matter further.
“My attorney will be taking the next steps. I don’t know what form that’s gonna take but they are in the process of looking at it now,” he added.