Hurst: Government would welcome court’s involvement in ex-LIAT workers saga

LIAT has been in administration since mid-2020
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By Carlena Knight

[email protected]

Government would “welcome the court’s intervention” if former LIAT employees take legal action to claim outstanding severance.

That was the word yesterday from Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office Lionel “Max” Hurst speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing.

A victory by five LIAT pilots on Thursday which saw a critical section of Antigua and Barbuda’s Companies Amendment Act 2020 ruled to be unconstitutional could pave the way for hundreds of the carrier’s former workers to surge ahead with their own claim.

News of possible legal action came on the eve of the second anniversary of LIAT workers’ termination as they fight on to get millions of dollars in financial entitlements they say they are owed.

“We are not afraid of going before the courts because the government of Antigua and Barbuda has not done anything that is outside of the legal norm,” Hurst said.

“In fact, as you know, the compassionate offer of $2 million dollars to the LIAT staff over the Christmas holidays was well taken up so, in all likelihood, we will see continued offerings by the government of Antigua and Barbuda to try to ease the hardship which former LIAT employees are facing.

“We would welcome the court’s intervention if it would mean that it would solve one of the problems relating to staff and cuts in staff payment and so on, so that would be welcomed,” he added.

Barbados Today reported yesterday that Barbadian pilot Neil Cave, along with four of his colleagues, had filed a suit in the Antigua and Barbuda High Court, challenging the constitutionality of Section 564(1)(a) of the Companies Amendment Act 2020.

That section imposed an automatic stay of proceedings on all matters against LIAT 1974 Limited, which is currently in administration.

This resulted in a separate High Court claim by the pilots, dating back to 2015 and which was set for trial in 2020, being adjourned indefinitely.

But on Thursday, High Court Judge Justice Marissa Robertson upheld the two key contentions of the pilots, ruling that the section of the Companies Act in question was unconstitutional.

She ruled that it is “over broad” and not rationally connected with the objective of the amendment, which is to allow debtors (including LIAT) to pursue rehabilitation by affording it protection from enforcement by its creditors, and therefore cannot be justifiable.

The judge also ruled that the section infringed the principle of separation of powers as the automatic stay of proceedings removed new and current matters from the oversight of the court.

Commenting on the outcome, pilot Neil Cave told the Barbados news portal that “it’s been a good day, a reward after two terrible years”.

Cave explained that the court challenge originated with a claim against the Antigua and Barbuda government regarding “unauthorised” lodging of pilots’ pensions with the collapsed CLICO International Life Insurance Company Limited.

The former senior LIAT pilot further explained that when that decision was taken to the Court of Appeal, it upheld the ruling of the lower court.

He said that Thursday’s judgment is a major win, not only for the pilots, but by extension, all terminated LIAT employees.

Cave said having gone through years of bad news, the judgment has given him and his colleagues a chance to have their day in court.

The dismissed workers have been fighting since the airline’s collapse to get more than EC$120 million owed in severance and other benefits.

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