LIAT workers hint at plans to stage protest

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Beleaguered former LIAT workers still fighting to be paid more than EC $120 million owed in severance and other entitlements have hinted at staging protest action.

Around 500 ex-employees of the regional carrier, which is currently in administration, have been fighting for their dues for almost two years since the airline collapsed.

Yesterday, Arian Blanchard, the Barbados executive member for the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), disclosed on another local radio station that plans for a protest are in the works.

“The next move right now is we plan to protest in a few days and this is going to take place in the LIAT network. The unions are united, the employees are still like a family even though we have all been to hell and back. We will speak to more about the plans for the protest in the next few days,” Blanchard said.

“Even though Prime Minister Browne is offering what would be his fair share, which is 35 percent entitlement, which is also equal to 50 percent severance, he is trying to take all the charter rights for that amount, so this is where we have the issue,” she explained. 

“If he was just offering that percentage, I don’t see that there would have been any issue with the employees accepting that, but when you are saying that that’s it, that puts you between a rock and a hard place.”

Owned by a handful of Caribbean shareholder governments, LIAT 1974 Ltd had provided crucial regional connectivity for decades but — as with many businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic — had to fold giving birth to a new downsized incarnation of the regional carrier which has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020.

Around a dozen pilots are among those still employed, albeit on half the salary they received before LIAT’s collapse, but the bulk of the carrier’s former staff has been left out in the cold.

There has however been some effort by two of the shareholder governments to provide some sort of financial assistance to the former workforce.

Barbados announced that it would give an advance of $2,000 per month to its nationals while the Antigua and Barbuda government has made several offers for a compassionate payment. The most recent revelation last month, indicated that the Antigua government had dispatched EC $2 million to the LIAT court-appointed administrator for distribution to former LIAT workers who are residents in the twin island nation.

Although the Antigua and Barbuda government has earned some praise for its efforts to keep the carrier in the skies, its attempts to offer former workers some financial compensation has been the subject of controversy.

Just a few days ago, LIALPA President Patterson Thompson told a regional newspaper that the offer by the Antigua government of a compassionate payment of half of the severance and the advance of $2,000 per month by Barbados to its nationals, has not gone far enough to satisfy the dire financial problems of the workers.

He reiterated that point on Tuesday while speaking on another local media house where he explained why he thinks the offer is a double-edged sword.

“It is not a compassionate offer because there’s a deal. I have to give up my rights to anything that may be made in liquidation, so it is not compassionate. Compassionate is saying ‘well, I am going to give you this money with no strings attached’ so, let’s take away this compassionate talk.,” Thompson said.

“We haven’t had any money for 21 months. Are you saying that we are not worth it? We operated the airline — the ground staff, the mechanics, the flight attendants, the office staff, the pilots — you want us to retool but we don’t have no money to retool us. People’s houses will go on the stock now. People will have to come out of school, some may have to leave their islands. How is this compassionate?” he asked.

LIALPA was not the only union to share their concerns or chastise the Antigua and Barbuda government’s move, as the Antigua and Barbuda Worker’s Union (ABWU) referred to the payout as a ‘bribe” and revealed plans to take legal action against the government for offering the payout without its consent.

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