By Latrishka Thomas
In a closed-door meeting between union officials and LIAT workers yesterday morning, Prime Minister Gaston Browne made a tall ask of workers to the effect that they take a 50 percent reduction in severance payments.
Several regional governments have been broaching the idea of closing down the cash-strapped carrier, but Browne has been adamant that doing away with the airline would be detrimental for Antigua and Barbuda which employs the bulk of LIAT’s hundreds of workers.
Browne explained to the employees that the other shareholding governments of the doomed airline — Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica — have decided not to budge on liquidating the regional carrier.
He said that he even wrote to them on Monday requesting to meet with them to discuss a final option; the reorganisation of LIAT.
But, according to him, two of the airline’s majority shareholders are prepared to walk away from all liabilities in LIAT and in fact proposed that shareholding governments should not maintain any legal liability.
They have, however, agreed to make compassionate severance payments to staff in their countries which would result in Antigua and Barbuda paying $62 million in severance and $8 million in other staff costs while St Vincent and Grenadines for example, pays out about $1 million, the PM further explained.
Browne, who is also Antigua and Barbuda’s finance minister, added that that is not an equitable way to settle because although the twin island has more employees in the airline, Barbados enjoyed most of the benefits.
In conclusion, the PM iterated that the shutdown of the airline would be futile since the workers will wind up with nothing.
Hence, he put to the workers that the formation of a new LIAT would save many jobs even though it would require significant cuts in salaries and other benefits.
Browne therefore encouraged them to take a 50 percent cut to assist with the establishment of a new incarnation of LIAT – LIAT 2020 Ltd – a decision which he requested be made by Friday.
Furthermore, he said that he will be encouraging shareholder governments to write off all of their liabilities.
In the question and answer segment of the meeting, employees claimed the decision would be extremely difficult and went on to interrogate the PM.
One man suggested that their severance payments come in the form of land or other assets in addition to cash and Browne agreed to consider that.
One woman challenged the PM to lower the recommended pay cut to 30 percent and he agreed to discuss it with the planning team.
Moments after the meeting concluded, the workers reportedly agreed to take the 30 percent cut.
When Observer contacted the General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union, David Massiah, he refused to comment on the matter ahead of further discussions.