By Shermain Bique-Charles
Lennox Weston, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, did not mince his words yesterday when he addressed the vexing issue over severance between the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) and the government.
Weston told LIALPA – which represents LIAT pilots – that they have just one month to make up their minds about the latest 50 percent compassionate payment offer made by the government of Antigua and Barbuda.
LIALPA President Patterson Thompson remains adamant that the offer first put on the table by Prime Minister Gaston Browne is not feasible, while Browne says the proposal – payable in cash, lands and bonds – is non-negotiable.
Weston had harsh words for the pilots on Tuesday.
“We had a meeting and the [Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union] said they were not accepting the offer, but then [some of the pilots] figured they are prima donnas and they went behind the union’s back and tried to strike a deal with the prime minister,” Weston told Observer.
The meeting in question occurred on October 8 this year, but Thompson said the pilots made no commitment there to accept the compassionate agreement offer because LIALPA “cannot make such a decision on behalf of the pilots”.
Instead, Thompson said if the situation is not ironed out soon each former employee may have to decide individually whether they will accept the offer.
But LIALPA may not have much time, according to Weston, who made it clear that the offer will not remain on the table for very long, the same sentiments outlined by PM Browne recently.
Furthermore, Weston warned that if the situation is not resolved by the new year, the benefits will not equal the 50 percent currently being offered.
“We are not going to let this sit on the table until the new year. We are going to move on; we will follow the law,” Weston added.
To date, the unions have remained relatively quiet on the latest tug-of-war between LIALPA and the government.
Since more than 90 percent of the airline’s staff were temporarily, then permanently, laid off in April 2020, they have been calling for their complete severance and other entitlements, totalling nearly EC$120 million.
So far, some former LIAT employees have received indications of support for their plight from regional shareholder governments. Dominica’s PM Roosevelt Skerrit assured those in his country late last year that his government was looking at different options, including direct cash investments, to resolve some of the issues and assist the staff.
And in June this year, former LIAT staff in Barbados received a one-off gift of $2,000 from the Mia Mottley-led administration and were awaiting an additional $2,000-per-month stipend that was also promised.
LIALPA is also hoping to meet with Mottley and the leader of the other shareholder government, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.