Barbados-based LIAT pilots disagree with union’s public rebuke of treatment of former workers


Former LIAT pilots in Barbados have taken strong umbrage with their union leader for blaming the Government here for failing to act early to settle the non-payment of outstanding severance owed to hundreds of terminated workers.

In a page 3 story published in the Wednesday edition of the Barbados TODAY E-Paper, chairman of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) Patterson Thompson was adamant that the blame must be placed squarely at the feet of the Mia Mottley administration even as a new company is about to replace the troubled Antigua-headquartered airline.

Thompson, a Barbadian based in Antigua, also accused Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins of playing politics with the severance issue.

But in an equally robust response on Thursday, spokesman for the former LIAT pilots in Barbados Captain Neil Cave delivered a firm rebuff of the union chief for blaming Barbados for the non-payment of their severance and other entitlements.

“The comments made by Patterson Thompson, however, after consulting with several of my former colleagues on the ground here in Barbados, I must state that we do not and cannot agree with some of the statements,” Cave told Barbados TODAY.

“The blame for LIAT’s closure first of all and non-payment of severance, simply cannot be laid at the feet of the Barbados Government alone as has been expressed by Thompson.

“We take issue with the statements made on the basis that despite the situation, the Barbados Government remains the only LIAT shareholder government to give, as far as I am aware, the former workers including those who were based here and perhaps reside in other islands, a monthly bridge of $2,000 a month,” declared Cave.

Thompson had previously declared that ever since the employees were terminated two years ago, the severance matter has still not been adequately addressed by any of the shareholder governments in Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, but he reserved the harshest criticism for the administration in Bridgetown.

“I maintain strongly that when the decision was made to shut down LIAT, it was the responsibility of the Barbados Government, being the major shareholder, to have a plan in place for the workers,” the LIALPA head told Barbados TODAY.

“Also, for the Honourable minister [Cummins] to come the day before general elections [in Barbados] to somehow make my severance issue a political issue, does not go down with me or the other workers very well, because if there was a plan, it should have been articulated way in advance and then the pressure would have been on the Prime Minister of Antigua to justify why he would delay in paying out severance or whatever it was to the workers,” the pilots’ union leader stated.

But in further defence of the Barbados Government, Cave recalled that in May 2021, the Mottley administration mediated a moratorium on loans and mortgages with lending institutions on behalf of the former LIAT employees here while the severance troubles remained ripe for resolution.

“Some banks such as CIBC First Caribbean International have been very helpful in heeding the call of the Prime Minister in giving some support in these unusual circumstances. So Patterson Thompson’s comments came this morning as a surprise to many of us,” the senior pilot said.

The local spokesman for the terminated LIAT pilots also came out in support of International Transport Minister Cummins in light of Thompson’s suggestion that she was playing politics with the severance issue.

“Senator Cummins is in fact, the only minister who has come out as far as I am aware, saying very clearly and publicly, that all workers throughout the former LIAT network, deserve what is legally and morally due to them, in her recent Antigua Observer interview,” Cave contended.

“The minister also highlighted the Government’s commitment to good labour practices, and stated that the former staff in all jurisdictions deserve their full due. We can say, without a doubt, that we welcome these comments after such a long wait and we fail to see how Senator Cummins’ comments showing empathy for the workers could be construed as negative to our plight, when clearly, the comments could only be viewed as being in support of getting the issue settled,” the former LIAT senior pilot stated.

Cave said the “lifeline” monthly payments of $2,000 are disbursed by the Ministry of International Transport headed by Senator Cummins.

“So when you contrast these comments with those of Minister Lennox Weston of Antigua, he outright blamed the former LIAT workers for the demise of LIAT and crudely put to the workers point blank that the Antigua government was looking to liquidate LIAT 1974 Limited after two long years due to the liabilities which would include staff and attempting to launch LIAT 2020, essentially quashing any chance of a settlement.”

Cave added: “Clearly there is a disconnect and a clear lack of compassion behind such statements after what we have been through. There is zero understanding in such statements for the plight of the workers.”

He added that he and his ex-LIAT colleagues also want to know why their union leader did not mention the clear “disdain” for the staff recently demonstrated by Senator Weston, and also by Prime Minister Gaston Browne telling the staff to take an offer which really is an “insult”.

Cave said that the offer which is contained in a letter, demands that  staff give up their full entitlements for what equates to less than five per cent in some cases, of what they are owed in severance and other entitlements.

“If you contrast this with the comments of Senator Cummins, you are forced to ask what is really going on?” Cave suggested.

The LIALPA chairman today declined to comment any further on the matter. Minister Cummins has told Barbados TODAY that she could not speak on the actions of Antigua or any other sovereign government in their own right.

“Barbados will speak to its own position on any matter related to LIAT and its former employees at such time as we have taken a policy decision,” she declared on Wednesday.

Minister Weston recently announced that the new airline, LIAT (2020) Limited which has started advertising a wide range of vacancies, is expected to go into operation in June this year.

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