By Shermain Bique-Charles
A government minister is calling on regional leaders to come together to discuss ways to ensure the survival of regional airline LIAT – and help its former workers who are still owed millions in unpaid severance.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez told Observer that the carrier is crucial to connectivity and tourism.
Former LIAT pilots recently made an impassioned plea – for the umpteenth time – for regional leaders to “bring an end to the suffering” of those awaiting compensation, and desist from blaming them for the carrier’s failure.
An outcry erupted earlier this month after St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves implied that staff should shoulder some of the blame for LIAT’s downfall due to repeated strike action and a poor work ethic.
“LIAT is very important,” Fernandez continued. “At the last heads of government meeting, there was a lot of talk and concern about the whole aspect of connectivity throughout the region.
“It is important for trade and people-to-people exchange. I think it is important for the islands to get together once again and commit to ensuring that LIAT continues to fly,” he added.
Former LIAT pilots and others have been questioning why the major shareholders in the carrier – the governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and Grenadines, and Dominica – cannot unite to resolve the issue.
The shareholders have however made individual efforts to support the employees based in their respective countries, whether through financial or social assistance.
And St Lucia, which is not a majority shareholder, has promised to pay all former LIAT workers in the country.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda has previously maintained that it can only offer the severed employees a ‘take it or leave it’ agreement of 50 percent of the monies owed, payable in cash, lands and bonds.
Terminated workers have been on the breadline since March 2020 after the airline took a nosedive amid the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of ex-staff are owed millions of dollars in severance and other payments, and some of them have gone public to document the hardship they and their families face with payouts stalled.
To date, LIAT remains in court-sanctioned administration as Antigua and Barbuda continues its bid to save the airline. A downsized version of the carrier has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020.