Antigua PM suggests Barbados help make payments to dismissed LIAT workers

The Mia Mottley administration may soon be asked to help pay millions of dollars in severance for hundreds of terminated LIAT workers.

Notice of this was given at the weekend by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne while speaking on Pointe FM 99.1 radio station.

He told listeners to the community-based radio station that Antigua, where the collapsed airline is headquartered, cannot foot the severance bill on its own.

“Antigua and Barbuda can’t carry the entire severance payment alone, but we are prepared to carry our part of it and encourage other shareholder governments to help pay to bring some relief to the staff,” he said in reference to shareholders Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica.

The Antiguan leader is adamant that some 600 airline employees must go and 100  rehired in order to operate the company, once the current restructuring process succeeds under a court-approved administrator.

Browne, however, is cautioning workers not to disrupt or undermine the restructuring process.

“You better off having 100 people employed and having LIAT flying than to force a situation that have 600 people employed and then have LIAT collapse, maybe in a few months,” he warned.

“So, we have to understand that it cannot survive in the form that existed prior to COVID, and that if we are going to have some semblance of LIAT it has to be very lean, very efficient and that requires the cooperation of all, including those who will not be re-employed,” the prime minister declared.

Browne told the radio audience he expects the new LIAT leadership to have an eagle eye out for the “rotten” employees during the rehiring process.

“And I have to say here, too, we expect the administration to look keenly at those employees; and let’s face it, LIAT has some rotten employees…. Those employees can’t be priority for re-employment…and we know that many of them would want to be disruptive, would want to use the court system and the unions and so on to put us under pressure,” said the Antigua PM.

However, he has put all concerned on notice that his government would not be daunted by any such “strategies.”

“So, they may as well cooperate with us and work with us and see how best we can satisfy the severance payments,” he suggested.

But while employees continue to demand their long-delayed severance, Prime Minister Browne’s description of some of them as “rotten”, has not gone down well with ground staff and pilots.

“People are very disheartened and very angry with what sitting Prime Minister Gaston Browne is saying with reference to the staff, coming out in the public and saying there are staff that are rotten,” one upset employee told Barbados TODAY.

“What he is not saying – and there are many of us in consultation with the union and the attorney particularly –; what Gaston Browne is not saying is why LIAT is where it is. He is not talking about all the various litigation and the very cruel treatment handed out to employees, mainly at the hands of his management over the years,” he contended.

“So, the point I am making is that we are basically still being held hostage right now; we are in limbo, we don’t have any official word on our position, so it is difficult for us to come out and say things publicly that we would like to say.”

However, the worker assured, all will be told at the appropriate time.

Earlier this month, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Information Melford Nicholas said the cash-starved airline is expected to return to the skies next month. However, that timeline was dismissed as unlikely, by administrator, Cleveland Seaforth, during a recent meeting he had with the unions in the twin-island nation. Seaforth said there was still too much work left to be done first.

LIAT’s four major shareholder governments have written to the administrator agreeing to write off their debts, estimated at almost EC$70 million (US$26 million).

LIAT owes creditors more than EC$100 million (US$37 million).

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