By Theresa Goodwin
The promise of scholarships to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Islands campus to enhance their future job prospects has brought little comfort to former LIAT workers who have been waiting months for news about severance pay and other entitlements.
Government announced yesterday that scholarships would be offered to nationals who were employed with the Antigua-based carrier to help them “retool”.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters on Thursday that the government acknowledged there was a “moral obligation” to pay severance to former workers, however, the company is not in a position to do so.
“We feel that it is our moral obligation to find some degree of restitution for those employees – and the government of Antigua and Barbuda is proposing a number of benefits that could be offered to the severed workers that could be matched by other member states within the Caribbean,” Nicholas said.
He said one of the options was scholarships to former LIAT staff that are interested in furthering their education until further resolutions are reached.
Though the thought behind the gesture is welcomed, a few former staffers who spoke to Observer on Thursday said this does not help their immediate plight, and money owed to them is what will put food on the table and pay overdue bills that are piling up.
A former pilot is among those sharing his tale. The man, who is married to a former LIAT flight attendant, said the couple are both feeling the hardship.
He argued that education does not guarantee a job and this does not help them after 10 months of waiting.
“The banks are on our cases; we have car loans to pay. The company stopped paying our health insurance and we are still at home. Our letters had return dates, however before anything could happen, we were made redundant,” the man explained.
He said he appreciates the fact that the government has something in mind, however, it does not provide any comfort.
The former pilot said a few of his colleagues who were hoping for an update are now fuming after hearing the news earlier on Thursday.
One woman, who worked as a reservation agent for 16 years, said, “As a single mother who is struggling, that is a no-no for me. I am still waiting on my severance, my back pay, vacation pay and overtime from since April. This is more important than scholarships.”
The woman said she has been living off her savings for the past few months.
A former maintenance engineer also said, “A scholarship would be good in the long run, but it does not fix the current problems of overdue bills like mortgages, utilities and rent. Our needs are immediate and we need an immediate cash injection to alleviate some of the hardships that we are facing.”
Scores of workers were terminated last year while the airline underwent restructuring to prevent it being liquidated.
Many former employees have taken to social media recently to lament the financial challenges they are encountering as they wait to hear updates on their outstanding payments.
They have also called on the shareholder governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica to come to their rescue.
The former staff members, who have made widely-shared videos and other posts, have pleaded with people across the region to help them spread their message.