While displaced LIAT workers in Barbados are set to receive $75,000 in cash towards their long-owed severance, progress in Antigua and Barbuda has not been so amicable. A war of words continues between Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) which is fighting for severance on behalf of the regional airline’s local ex-employees.
ABWU General Secretary David Massiah told PM Browne that he doesn’t “get to close the door” on LIAT severance negotiations, despite Browne’s recent comments in Parliament when he said he would not hold any further talks with the union, blasting the bargaining agent as “unreasonable” and “downright malicious”.
The union has been battling for full severance pay for former workers with the collapsed carrier, but the government has said it will only pay half, saying it is not legally obliged to pay anything.
Browne even suggested the union would need to take legal action against the government if it wants to continue to fight for more than the 50 percent that has been offered.
“Well, I want to say to them definitively that if we have any such legal obligation, take us to court. I also want to state here that we are not having any further bilateral agreement with the ABWU.
“If they want to engage us, get all of the regional [shareholder] governments together, the four governments, and let us decide on a way forward because I find that they have literally abused our benevolence,” Browne said.
But in a response, Massiah accused the PM of wilfully trying to deprive the former LIAT workers of their owed severance pay.
“Why are you so averse to meeting with the unions on the matter of severance for the former employees of LIAT 1947 Ltd? Prime Minister Browne, when and how have the workers of LIAT so offended you that you would do anything in your power to deprive them of their just claim for severance and other terminal benefits?” the union boss said.
“It is obscene and bewildering that as a prime minister and a representative of a constituency you would have such disdain for workers, but it is because of people like you that the ABWU exists.
“Prime Minister Browne, you do not get to close the door on this LIAT matter. Rest assured that the ABWU will pursue this administration and any other administration for that matter and will try every option available to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement for the workers of LIAT,” Massiah said.
Massiah claims Prime Minister Gaston Browne has the power to resolve the LIAT issue but refuses.
“It will not be your so-called compassionate offer or nothing. Why should the workers of LIAT go home nearly empty-handed with a fraction of their entitlements in cash having been out of work for nearly three years with mountain mortgage payments, coupled with the sky-rocketing cost of living, all of which you have the power to resolve?
“How can this be right? In keeping with your modus operandi, you have deluded yourself and your cronies into thinking that somehow your administration is the hero in this tragic mess that you have created.
“Since the demise of LIAT the only thing your administration has done for the workers is prolong their suffering, deprive them of their dignity and insult their intelligence,” Massiah said.
Despite their verbal discord, the union boss said he remains open for dialogue with Prime Minister Browne.
“Anyone with a good conscience must admit that it is morally correct and most natural for the government to make every effort to achieve a reasonable settlement that involves respectful dialogue with the union, the legal and lawful representative, and the workers of LIAT 1974 Ltd.
“We are urging you again to put aside all prejudice and prioritise the 600-plus workers and their families who have been severely disadvantaged by your administration’s uncaring actions,” he implored.
LIAT 1974 was owned by a handful of regional governments but rarely made a profit in its five-decade history. When flights were grounded due to the Covid pandemic, its long-standing financial problems were aggravated forcing it towards liquidation.
The government has since held discussions on around EC$80 million owed to the hundreds of ex-workers.
Antigua and Barbuda has been fighting to establish a new entity – LIAT 2020 – to maintain direct air routes around the region. In the meantime, the airline has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce.