LIAT administrator agrees to meet with union – but with stipulations

Cleveland Seaforth. David Massiah
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

LIAT’s court-appointed administrator Cleveland Seaforth said if he is to meet with unions including the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) to discuss the plight of the airline’s former workers, they must itemise the list of topics for discussion.

According to a letter addressed to ABWU General Secretary David Massiah, dated September 6, once the list is received the administrator will review it and provide a finalised agenda.

Massiah recently wrote a second letter to Seaforth requesting an urgent meeting to discuss severance pay owed to LIAT’s hundreds of former staff after his first written plea failed.

“We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated August 16 2022, with respect to your request for a meeting with the administrator of LIAT (1974) Ltd,” Seaforth wrote in yesterday’s letter.

“We take this opportunity to remind you that the LIAT collective bargaining agreements with the unions were suspended in accordance with the court order granted on December 10 2020 and all union heads were subsequently advised of the decision and the supporting documentation provided,” he said.

But Seaforth continued, notwithstanding the above mentioned, he has no objection to discussing matters of concern regarding ex-LIAT employees with the unions.

Massiah could not be reached for comment on the matter but he said in an interview with Observer last week that both Seaforth and the government have a moral obligation to settle the severance and other payments owed to former workers in Antigua and Barbuda.

“He has the right to keep us advised. He was appointed administrator in July 2020, expected to expire in four months. But he continues to be here. LIAT continues to operate however small or in a reduced format and people who have kept it afloat for over 50 years have not received anything,” Massiah said.

“If it was a private entity, the law of the land must prevail. I am appealing to the government, whether they don’t feel they have a legal obligation to deal with anything, there’s a moral obligation to deal with it, Mr Prime Minister and Mr Administrator to advise the union and their workers as to what the administration process has yielded thus far. We are still in the dark,” he added.

The regional carrier has been in administration since July 2020 and has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November that year.

According to reports, ex-LIAT workers are owed around EC$120 million in severance and other payments and it appears unlikely that they will be paid in full.

Shareholders recently decided to liquidate LIAT 1974 Ltd and set up a new entity named LIAT 2020, which makes severance questionable.

LIAT 2020 does not yet have an air operator’s certificate but plans are to have the planes flying soon.

LIAT is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, and some shareholders have made efforts to support the employees based in their respective countries, whether through financial or social assistance.

Late last December, the Antigua and Barbuda government dispatched EC$2 million as a “compassionate payment” to local former employees. Just a small fraction has been collected with more than EC$1.6 million still left unclaimed.

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