Former LIAT workers here to benefit from ex gratia payment

( Barbados Today) After months of frustration and suffering, much-needed cash will shortly be in the hands of some terminated Barbadian LIAT employees.

Attorney General Dale Marshall told Parliament on Tuesday night during the Estimates debate, that these are the workers who should have been paid by the Antigua and Barbuda government because they contributed every month to that country’s social security severance fund.

But Marshall contended that even though the Barbados Government was not legally obligated to pay those workers severance, it was out of a sense of humanity and care that the Mia Mottley administration will be ready with the details of the payout within days.

“We have determined that it would be appropriate to see how we can make some kind of payment ex-gratia, entirely on an ex-gratia basis, for those unfortunate souls who worked for LIAT, were contracted in Antigua, but who live here. But it would be an ex-gratia payment which will be made when the details are worked out,” the Attorney General stressed as he responded to a call from Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley for an update on the plight of the employees.

“So I want to assure the Honourable Leader of the Opposition that this is not something that is forgotten by us. But he must not speak of it as though we are in breach of some obligation to the LIAT employees. That is not the case. In fact, other than a moral obligation…other than an obligation of a humanity basis, the government of Barbados… and I am speaking as AG…has no legal obligation to those individuals whatsoever,” he declared.

“Put another way. They made up their beds in Antigua and therefore their fortunes are left in the hands of the Antigua administration. But not withstanding that, the Minister of Tourism is working out a programme to come up with some numbers and I expect that within the next few days, we would be in a position to say to the public what ex-gratia, what gratuitous assistance we will be planning on giving those non-Barbadians…not in terms of residence…but in terms of their employment…those people who were employed in Antigua and paid their dues to the Antigua government. We are working out what we can and will give to them on an ex-gratia basis,” the AG stated.

Marshall explained that there are two sets of Barbadian LIAT workers who were terminated by the Antigua-based airline.

According to him, one group was employed by LIAT in Barbados and they paid contributions into the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) here.

He noted that LIAT also paid contributions into the NIS here on behalf of those Barbadians. “There is a legal obligation on the part of the National Insurance Scheme through the Severance Payments Fund to make payments to those individuals,” he explained.

“What is little known though, is that the management of LIAT under administration has refused to cooperate with those employees…the Barbados-based employees, who paid in…so money came out of their pay cheques every month and they are entitled to get it back. The LIAT administrator refused to cooperate, to stop them from getting back their money,” Marshall told Parliament.

He however insisted that the ex-LIAT workers who will now benefit from Barbados’ assistance, are largely pilots and some flight attendants, who brought the current plight on themselves when they decided to be employed in Antigua rather than here.

“They opted for the benefit of being employed in Antigua, earning hefty salaries in Antigua. They had all the benefits of living and working there. As a caring government…and some of them are not Bajans either, so don’t fool yuh foot. Some are non-Bajans who happened to be living in Barbados. This caring government decided that we would leave no one to the wolves and as far back as July or August last year, we gave every single one of those employees…whether they paid in here or paid in in Antigua…we gave everyone a payment,” Marshall declared.

Meanwhile, the group of former LIAT pilots who have been fighting the Antigua government to pay them their severance and pensions are now exploring the possibility of taking legal action against the Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne over recent comments they considered as disparaging and tarnishing to their reputation and future job prospects.

In a letter issued Thursday to PM  Browne , the pilots said:

“We believe we possess a right to have our matters fairly heard before the courts, free from political interference. No number of insults, derogatory remarks, or attempts at intimidation, will sway us from our most fundamental right to the pursuit of justice via the courts. This, despite your “herculean” efforts to have it otherwise. Take note that in light of your discriminatory, disparaging, and potentially career-damaging public pronouncements, we are presently exploring the legal options available to us.,” said Barbadian pilot Captain Neil Cave who is heading a class action suit against the Antigua government.

Prime Minister Browne linked some of the Barbadian pilots to “rotten elements” and questioned how they would be able to find other flying jobs because they continue to challenge the government in court to be able to recoup some EC$5 million in pensions they said were “unlawfully” taken from their pay packets.