Union boss accuses government of ‘raping the rights’ of ex-LIAT staff

ABWU General Secretary, David Massiah (File photo)
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by Carlena Knight

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Unions representing former LIAT workers are not backing down from the fight to secure their severance and other outstanding payments.

The assurance comes amid word from the Cabinet that many of the ex-staff have opted to take part of the Antigua and Barbuda government’s EC$2 million “compassionate” offer – which essentially waives their rights to the remainder of their dues.

But General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) David Massiah is continuing to criticise the offer, and the overall approach the government has taken, referring to their actions as “raping the workers’ rights”.

He spoke of a situation where one worker who accepted the offer was left with a fraction of the amount he was expecting.

“It doesn’t make sense. One of the letters that basically came had a situation where an employee was basically told he is entitled to just about $10,000 with the 50 percent of whatever it is he is going to get, which is roughly about $5,000, but then his 30 percent is going to boil down to just about $13,000 or $12,000.

“And of that 30 percent, they were prepared to give that employee less than $600 in the give-out in Christmas and there was no understanding of when he would get the [rest].

“It is highway robbery! Coming from a government that is a Labour government, it is unheard of. It is raping the people of their right to entitlement under the laws of Antigua and Barbuda,” Massiah said.

He echoed the previous sentiments of Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) President Patterson Thompson in referring to the offer as nothing close to compassionate.

“Your acceptance of the government’s compassionate settlement offer represents your full entitlement of your severance; that is wrong,” he told the Observer AM show.

“Where is compassionate in that? You are giving away half of my right and telling me that I must come now but that letter that you are giving to the employee never said that they know when the rest of my cash will come to me, I cannot tell you when it is going to happen.”

Owned by a handful of Caribbean shareholder governments, LIAT 1974 Ltd had provided crucial regional connectivity for decades but folded when the Covid pandemic exacerbated its long-standing financial woes.

A new downsized incarnation of the regional carrier has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020.

Around a dozen pilots are among those still employed, albeit on half the salary they received before LIAT’s collapse, but the bulk of the carrier’s former staff have been left out in the cold.

Around 500 former employees of the carrier, which is currently in administration, have been fighting for their dues for almost two years.

When asked if there could be possible protest action from the union surrounding this matter as hinted at earlier this week, Massiah said it remained on the table.

“We have sat down with all the unions and we have resolved within ourselves that this is something that we have to do to begin to protest, to begin to walk the pavement,” he said.

“It could be five or 10 persons. It could even be one person but the situation of LIAT and the challenges of the workers must be laid at this administration and we cannot allow them to just go in and walk into another election and they feel like they treated the people right. They have not,” Massiah added.

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