By Theresa Goodwin
Prime Minister Gaston Browne is adamant that the offer of a compassionate settlement of 50 percent, payable in cash, lands and bonds, to severed LIAT workers is non-negotiable and union representatives have two choices — either accept or reject it.
The declaration follows a push by Chairman of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) Captain Patterson Thompson for a meeting with the Antiguan government to clarify concerns relating to the various offers that have been placed on the table for severance.
“We do not need to meet with them to determine the amount of the compassionate payment. This is not a matter for negotiation. They have one of two choices; accept or reject the offer. At the end of the day the government of Antigua and Barbuda has no legal liability to the staff of LIAT.
“Pushing our government to pay $60 million in cash is beyond the means of our government. It is therefore an exercise in futility,” Browne said.
He also disclosed that during a meeting with LIALPA, he indicated his willingness to pay 50 percent of the full staff liabilities. However, the Cabinet decided against his recommendation and capped it at 50 percent of the severance.
“What they want me to do; override the Cabinet?” Browne questioned.
The call by LIALPA for a meeting to address what Captain Thompson termed as “discrepancies” in what is being communicated by government to pilots and union representatives followed a letter from Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee on Sunday.
In it, Lee reminded the LIALPA representative of the commitment by the government of Antigua and Barbuda to offer a compassionate payment of 50 percent of the employees’ severance.
The severance is payable in cash, bonds or land, or a combination where possible.
Lee explained that the bonds would be issued for a 10-year period at a rate of two percent. LIAT workers who are not citizens of Antigua and Barbuda but who are granted lands as part of the severance deal, would have the fee for the non-citizen’s land holding licence waived.
The Cabinet Secretary also pointed to another offer where a former employee of the cash-strapped airline could opt for a scholarship in any field of study, capped at the value of the employee’s severance. The scholarship would be redeemable at the University of the West Indies’ Five Islands Campus.
The third offer outlined recently by Prime Minister Browne is to enter a sale and leaseback arrangement with the government of Antigua and Barbuda, covering all the chattel assets of LIAT.
Proceeds from this would be utilised to make urgent severance payments to eligible existing and displaced employees, as priority creditors. This offer is in lieu of the 50 percent compassionate payment.
In a follow up response, Captain Thompson said he was extremely disappointed and confused by Sunday’s letter, saying it excluded critical information discussed between the government and LIALPA on October 8.
He also told Observer that LIALPA met with the government on October 8 to discuss details of their concept and seek further clarification, and in that meeting the government committed to paying on old entitlements which is a larger sum than severance.
He said the government also pledged to be flexible with the combinations of the payout, but since then the goal post has been changing.
“We want them to stick to their words because they keep changing the goal post. There were two letters from Minister Lennox Weston talking about old entitlements. The Prime Minister has gone on his radio station to talk about old entitlements. If you keep moving the goal post, you are feeding the sceptics and the people who believe you are not genuine, and putting pressure on the unions to convince the people you are genuine,” Thompson stated.
He said if the union does not get a favourable response to its request for a meeting, LIALPA will present what it has to its membership and ask each individual to make their own decision.