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ABWU fires back at PM Browne on LIAT severance

Editorial Staff

Dec 8, 2022

General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union David Massiah

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union is denying that it is playing politics with the LIAT matter.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne accused the ABWU of stalling severance negotiations for ex-LIAT workers.

But General Secretary of the ABWU David Massiah says if anyone is playing politics with LIAT it is Gaston Browne, a leader whom he says is unable to speak the truth

“As has now become normal, with utterances from Prime Minister Gaston Browne, he regularly and indeed conscientiously deforms the truth. His latest diatribe on the LIAT severance pay issue comes to mind. To suggest that the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union is playing politics with the issue is utter nonsense, and the Prime Minister is well aware that if anyone is making this a political issue coupled with dictatorial tendencies, he is the culprit,” Massiah said in a statement tonight.

Browne had made a 50% compassionate payment offer to LIAT workers in cash and bonds but later said that he could consider a 50% cash-only offer. The prime minister admonished that it may be in the best interest of the ABWU if they finalize the offer before the new year as the proposal may not stand.

“This take what I offer or leave it without proper consultation and meaningful negotiations had been questioned and indeed dismissed all along by the LIAT employees affected,” Massiah said.

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union representing the LIAT employees, along with other groups acting for and on behalf of said employees throughout the network, would have stated their positions regarding severance entitlements and the overall terminal benefits and had rejected the Prime Minister’s offer of a maximum of 50% of the calculated severance entitlement as a full and final settlement and would have suggested alternatives.

“The latest position by Prime Minister Gaston Brown is to blame the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union for not accepting and giving effect to his unilateral offer of the 50% of LIAT wages entitlements only and accusing the union of playing politics,” Massiah said.

The ABWU boss said the union stated its position on the matter in a letter dated June 2020 and called for meaningful dialog and the prime minister was well aware.

“Prime Minister Gaston Brown refused to have any dialog on the matter and said Take it or leave it. As LIAT, employees continue to suffer and cry out for the government of Antigua and Barbuda as a lead shareholder of LIAT 1974 Ltd to live up to its legal and moral obligations, the ABWU continues to advocate for justice and meaningful dialog on the matter of the employees, terminal benefits and the future of air transportation, and LIAT’s crucial role in this regard,” Massiah said.

Browne maintains however, that the Union is being “extremely unreasonable because Antigua and Barbuda only owned 32% of the shares.  How can you reasonably ask the entity that only owed 32% to pay 100%?” Browne said during the last sitting of Parliament

Massiah ended his statement by calling on Prime Minister Gaston Browne and his administration to dialog meaningfully and “sincerely with the employees and their representatives to effect a resolution of all matters involving the late 1974 limited employees and the airline’s future as a vital part of the Caribbean’s quest for integration and social, economic and cultural development”.

The regional airline, LIAT (1974), was forced to close its operations and lay off its staff in March 2020 after the Covid pandemic exacerbated its financial difficulties.

The government has since held discussions on nearly EC$80 million owed to hundreds of ex-workers. However, the government maintained its position of a 50 percent payment to the workers.

Owned by a handful of Caribbean shareholder governments, LIAT 1974 Ltd had provided crucial regional connectivity for decades but folded when the COVID pandemic exacerbated its long-standing financial woes.

A new downsized incarnation of the carrier has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020.

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