By Shermain Bique-Charles
Union leaders have written to LIAT’s administrator Cleveland Seaforth requesting an audience by today latest to discuss shareholder governments’ plans regarding former staff as the cash-strapped regional carrier heads for liquidation.
General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) David Massiah told Observer that of grave concern is the fact that the administrator has kept the union in the dark about pertinent issues – chief among them the millions of dollars in severance owed to the airline’s ex-employees.
Massiah wrote in the letter to Seaforth dated August 5 that “it is imperative that serious dialogue be undertaken between yourself…and representatives of the employees almost immediately in order to give us a real sense of what is being planned and the impact it could have on current and former employees of LIAT 1974 Ltd”.
He said the session “should be convened no later than Thursday August 11”, and that the union believes Seaforth has a “statutory duty” to enlighten affected workers.
Massiah continued that the employees’ claim for terminal entitlements predates any consideration for liquidation and “therefore remains current, legally and validly binding and would be expected to be honoured in full”.
Furthermore, Massiah said the deafening silence on the future plans for the airline was gross disrespect to the very union that had been called on to persuade ex-employees to accept the government’s ‘compassionate payment’ offer which equates to a fraction of the total amount owed.
“We think he owes us that. This is why I wrote that letter asking him for an audience with the hopes that we can sit down and discuss the matter professionally,” Massiah told Observer yesterday.
When shareholders last met on August 2, outstanding severance and other payments was not on the agenda. Instead, the shareholder governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados, and St Vincent and the Grenadines decided to liquidate the airline and hire a consultant to chart the way forward
“The employees have a vested interest to know exactly what is happening. We need to be told what exactly this liquidation means, and what it is that we are going to get.
“Nothing has been said to us really. We need to have a clear understanding,” the trade unionist said.
The administration process, which initially commenced in July 2020 after the Covid pandemic saw the airline take a nosedive, was expected to last for four months. It has now been more than two years.
Massiah lamented ongoing disengagement between the court-appointed administrator and the employees’ bargaining agent, the ABWU.
“Information has not been coming from him following numerous requests. There seems to be this detachment with the union. Perhaps we did not accede to what the Antigua and Barbuda government did when they made the [compassionate] payment offer.
“We did not believe it was in the best interest of the people,” Massiah explained.
Another bone of contention for the ABWU is the non-inclusion of the union when pertinent decisions about the welfare of the ex-LIAT workers are being discussed.
Speaking specifically about the most recent meeting of the major shareholders, Massiah said, “There was no engagement or invitation. There was nothing in regards to the employees’ legal bargaining agents to discuss the process. Nothing has been said to us.”
He said former employees have been treated with total disregard since the airline was first grounded in early 2020.
“I am very concerned as to the direction and the way that the workers and their bargaining agents have been treated throughout this entire ordeal. It is disrespectful,” Massiah added.
LIAT has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020. Ex-staff have been clamouring for their cash since the pandemic put the brakes on travel in March that year.