By Shermain Bique-Charles
Ex-LIAT workers could be in for a shock when they learn that the contentious issue of outstanding severance and other payments owed to them is not among the priority discussions on the table for shareholder governments when they meet on Tuesday.
Observer has been reliably informed that the crucial meeting will be held primarily to discuss the future of the airline, and to agree on a renewed or rebooted regional carrier.
This week, President of the pilots’ union LIALPA, Patterson Thompson, told Observer that he was hoping that a collaborative but satisfactory decision would be made on Tuesday regarding all monies owed to former LIAT employees.
“This is what we have been asking for, for a long period of time, that there would be a collective approach, certainly by the four shareholders, and then those other governments who have determined that a regional carrier is extremely important,” he said.
But with talks on compensation and payment off the agenda, Thompson’s hopes look set to be dashed.
“We are taking too long to get to this point…being out of work for the past two years and not getting any kind of salary has been a tremendous financial strain. I am hoping that there would be a collaborative approach…fingers crossed,” he previously said.
The Antigua and Barbuda government announced late last year that it had provided EC$2 million as a “compassionate payment” to partially satisfy the millions owed to former local employees of the regional airline.
St Lucia, though not a shareholder of LIAT, has also promised to pay workers in Castries, while the other shareholders have not yet announced a definitive decision on the matter.
Meanwhile, Patterson is not convinced LIAT will end up in the hands of foreign investors.
“The investors may not necessarily want to deal with the severance. They may want a clean sheet, but there are ways that this can be negotiated,” he said.
Prime Minister Gaston Bowne, too, does not support the idea of foreign investors having a majority shareholding in a new regional airline.
“We also had a proposal from investors…out of Nigeria and they had indicated an interest in purchasing 75 percent of the shares in LIAT,” he said.
“But the governments in the region are also interested in literally reviving LIAT, and re-investing in LIAT.
“I think that is a superior option because the problem is, if you have an entity outside of the region with the majority of the shares it would be just a matter of time before they price gouge us, and we would be looking at the regional option,” the PM added.
Hundreds of LIAT workers were terminated in 2020 when the Covid pandemic exacerbated the airline’s long-standing financial woes by grounding it for several months. Many ex-staff have been in economic dire straits since.
Prior to going into administration, LIAT had been servicing several regional destinations. A downsized version of the carrier with a reduced workforce was launched in November 2020 and is now servicing Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St Kitts, St Lucia, and St Maarten.