LIAT: Union slams Gaston Browne's "compassionate" statement

By Rumi Samuel Published on June 01, 2023
LIAT: Union slams Gaston Browne's

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Trade Union (ABWTU) has accused the government of showing “contempt and disregard” for workers. 

The accusation follows Prime Minister Gaston Browne urging former employees of the cash-strapped regional airline LIAT (1974) to accept his administration’s compassionate offer.

Browne had also accused the union of engaging in politics over the matter.

“The union…continues to play politics, the politics drive them, and they well know that the government does not owe the staff of LIAT, and what they need to do now is to put some pressure on the union to accept the 32 per cent,” Browne said on a radio programme.

But ABWTU, in a statement, said that in his broadcast, Prime Minister Browne displayed “ a most despicable display of arrogance and condescending rhetoric in his continued attempt to bully and silence the cries of the workers of LIAT(1974) Limited.

ABWTU general secretary David Massiah said he wanted to make it “abundantly clear” to Prime Minister Browne that the union “will not rest until the workers of LIAT receive just compensation for the termination of their services”.

He said the union also made “this solemn promise” to the former workers “that with their unwavering support, we will pursue this matter with the full weight of our resources to secure a fair and reasonable settlement”.

The Antigua and Barbuda government had initially offered the workers a 50 per cent compassionate payment, but more than 90 per cent of the workers rejected the offer.

Browne,  also the finance minister, has reiterated his position that regional governments “have a moral obligation” to treat the issue of severance payment to former employees even as two shareholder governments have paid their nationals.

Barbados has joined St. Lucia in announcing a payment scheme for the LIAT workers in their respective islands. Still, Browne has said that his administration was no longer prepared to meet bilaterally with local trade unions to discuss the issue and that efforts should be made to include the other shareholder governments of the airline.

The former LIAT workers, including pilots, have been demanding the millions of dollars (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) owed in severance and other benefits.

In 2021, the Antigua and Barbuda government offered two million EC dollars to partially satisfy the cash component of the compassionate payout to former LIAT workers here.

The significant shareholders of the Antigua-based airline, which entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Browne told radio listeners that the compassionate offer made by his government to the workers would not remain on the table indefinitely.

“I always say, and I repeat it, we reserve the right to change our position. So if, for example, a month from now, we decide, hey, we are not paying nothing, we reserve that right. I am not saying we are doing it, but we deserve that right, and nobody should see it as a harsh decision.

“If we offer you 32 per cent ..and this would have happened about a year and a half,  how long will we hold out on this offer. As a Prime Minister, myself and my team…have a governance responsibility to the entire nation, not to a group of people called LIAT workers or former workers.:”

But the ABWTU said much of Prime Minister Browne’s were intended to cause confusion and anxiety in the minds of the former workers.

He said while the government has been boasting about not being bound legally to pay compensation to the workers, “we wish to remind him that there is no escaping the fact that this government, as a shareholder in LIAT (1974) Limited, has a moral if not total legal obligation to reach a reasonable settlement with the LIAT (1974) workers”.

The union said it is reiterating its call for a 100 per cent severance settlement to the workers, including a cash component and bonds and shares in any future revival of the airline.

“The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union is also gravely concerned about the handling of the administration of LIAT (1974) Limited. This process had been shrouded in secrecy and seems to be operating on an indefinite timeline. This is unacceptable,” the union said.

The Antigua-based LIAT (1974) Limited entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Rumi Samuel

Rumi Samuel

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