By Carlena Knight
President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) Patterson Thompson has made a call for the leaders linked with the regional carrier LIAT 1974 to come together to ensure workers receive their just dues.
Thompson said that although it is understandable that with the ongoing pandemic, many of the government’s leaders have to be focusing elsewhere, he is adamant that there must be some synergy between these leaders and LIAT’s administrator Cleveland Seaforth because the situation is dire for many workers.
“What I expect from my leaders is a collaborative effort to solve the issue even if over a period of time. We do not believe that it is a good look for Caricom and Caricom integration if you cannot get together as four prime ministers and solve the problem.
“Now, I understand the rhetoric but it is not about them. It is about us, the workers — 636 of us on the breadline who have not received not one penny in 18 months,” Thompson said.
“This is not only affecting people financially but mentally too. Their backs are against the wall now and they are reacting. I firmly believe there needs to be a collaborative effort.
“You can’t expect the other governments to get on board when the four shareholders can’t solve the problem. It’s their responsibility. They [have a] responsibility to solve the problem.”
Since the announcement that LIAT 1974 Ltd would fold, there have been several public spats between Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
There has however been some headway as PM Browne announced different measures he would take to compensate workers.
Browne indicated that workers would receive a “compassionate payment”. The offer is 50 percent of their severance to be paid in cash, land and bonds, while Mottley also made a declaration.
Thompson mentioned that there are more questions than answers for the workers as they have not received any detailed proposal on how the compassionate payment will be administered.
“This is the problem; we have no idea, no structure, no logistics on how this concept will be concretised into a proposal. It can’t take six months to put down a proposal in writing, and the government keeps putting out this narrative that is we stalling,” he said.
He revealed that there has been some communication between LIAT board member Lennox Weston, Seaforth, and LIAT workers throughout the months, but nothing indicating anything about a proposal or payments.
Because of this, he said, LIALPA wrote to Weston on July 26, and to PM Browne this week, but has yet to receive any response.
He was adamant in his beliefs that it should not take this long for a proposal to be administered or for some sort of payment to be made.
“We need to go forward. We have done it the right way. We have sat down in consultations and we have exchanged letters.
“I don’t like the fact that some representative of government said we foolish. How can we be foolish? You have given me a blank piece of paper to sign. If you went representing Antigua and this fella, say ‘well, I will give you 10 million dollars’, but you don’t know the interest rates, you don’t know if you got to pay it back in a day or a month, would you sign that? You are asking a lot of people.
“Remember we are struggling and I don’t want my severance to end up as a political issue. It is not a political issue. You need to pay us,” Thompson added.
“This is a terrible situation and now I have to do what Prime Minister Browne should have been doing, getting on the phone and calling the people and say, ‘hey get on board with me’.
“All prime ministers have their egos but we get hurt when these things happen. Mr Prime Minister getting his salary, Mr Seaforth getting his salary, but we out here for months struggling.”
LIAT, which is currently under a court-approved administration in Antigua and Barbuda, is being restructured in an effort to stave off liquidation.
The airline, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, owes millions of dollars in severance and other entitlements to terminated workers across the region.