Former LIAT workers who have been agitating for their severance pay have been told by Prime Minister Gaston Browne that their bargaining agent should be held responsible for their empty pockets, as the union keeps stalling negotiations.
Browne said in Parliament that the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) continues to play a political game with the much-needed severance discussions
The government maintains that it does not have any severance liability to the former workers of LIAT.
“Cabinet made a determination to make a compassionate payment up to 50% of the amounts due to them in a combination of land, cash, and bonds. We never determined the quantities. We even opened up the door subsequently to say if they wanted it in all cash, we are open to having these discussions”
“What has stalled these discussions is that the [ABWU] has indicated categorically that they will not accept the 50% in any form, that they want 100% of the severance due to the LIAT workers”
Browne, who is also the country’s finance minister said the ABWU continues to be very unreasonable in the matter.
“We find that to be extremely unreasonable because Antigua and Barbuda only owned 32% of the shares. If it is that they take 50% from us and went to other countries I am pretty sure they can cover the other 50%. But how can you reasonably ask the entity that only owed 32% to pay 100%? So, what happened to the liability of Barbados? Barbados made more fees out of LIAT than us for the last two decades,” he said.
“So, you’re gonna exculpate all other countries, even non-shareholding countries and hold Antigua and Barbuda responsible for a compassionate payment of 100% that is where the problem is”.
The prime minister believes that a more equitable position by the union would be to accept the 50% with the understanding that they still have the right to pursue the other governments.
“I am hoping the member for All Saints East and St Luke can use his influence with the ABWU to get them to make a more responsible position because I know they are playing politics,” he said.
He predicts that the ABWU may want to negotiate for the 50% after the next general elections, “when we will beat the UPP 17-0…but it may be too late”.
In August, the ABWU General Secretary David Massiah wrote to LIAT’s administrator Cleveland Seaforth requesting an audience to discuss shareholder governments’ plans regarding former staff
Massiah said at the time 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.
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.
LIAT has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020. Ex-staff have been clamoring for their cash since the pandemic put the brakes on travel in March of that year.