The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) has announced plans to legally challenge the government plus management of LIAT (1974) Limited, after the twin island nation’s government offered a EC$2 million payout to former LIAT workers without its consent.
General Secretary David Massiah said the government proceeded to make arrangements to issue the payment without consulting the union or staff.
On Monday, the prime minister’s office announced that, although not obligated to do so, it would dispatch the EC$2 million to those tasked with wrapping up the regional carrier’s 1974 incarnation for distribution to LIAT’s resident former staff.
The sum, it said, is intended to partially meet the cash component of a compassionate payout which the Antigua and Barbuda government previously volunteered.
However, according to Massiah, that offer was never agreed to by any of the unions in the region.
“The offer of a 50 percent payment of staff’s total severence, inclusive of a 30 percent cash component, was previously rejected by the regional consultative trade union partnership as it would result in employees abandoning all their claims and rights for a reasonable and legally justifiable and equitable settlement once they sign and accept the offer,” he said.
The ABWU dubbed it a “bribe”.
“The government of Antigua and Barbuda has once again enagaged in a massive deception by seeking to bribe the LIAT employees with a EC$2 million payout.
“The union is therefore left with no other alternative but to challenge the government of Antigua and Barbuda and the management of LIAT (1974) Ltd in administration legally and otherwise,” Massiah said.
The General Secretary also called the move “unfair, inhumane and unjust and, to a large extent, illegal”.
“Whilst the union understands and appreciates the hardships which the employees have undergone since they were made redundant, it is clear that the government is attempting to exploit the situation by putting out this red herring offer of assistance during this Yuletide season,” he added.
Former LIAT employees represented by the ABWU are expected to meet “very shortly” to determine the way forward.
Meanwhile, Patterson Thompson, president of LIALPA, the union which represents LIAT pilots, described the act as “part of a series of disappointing events which have occurred”.
“Let’s call it what it is, a deal. There is nothing compassionate about this offer right now. Terminated employees are between a rock and hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea,” he remarked.
He questioned why the government waited until the week before Christmas to make the offer.
“It’s unfortunate that the government would use EC$2 million at this time to pick off those terminated workers who may find themselves in such desperate conditions that they feel they have no choice but to accept this concept,” Thompson added.
LIAT (1974) went into administration last year amid soaring debt exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. New entity LIAT (2020) has been operating a limited schedule with a reduced workforce since November 1 2020.