I am one of almost 600 workers severed off from LIAT a few days ago. This ordeal started when many of us received our initial lay off letters very late at night on March 31st and continued into the wee hours of the morning of April Fools Day. To add to our further detriment an extension layoff letter was received in July (just short of 3 months from the first one). Then, to our surprise another lay off extension letter was sent in mid-September. The two latter letters placed workers into uncharted territory not outlined in the Antigua and Barbuda Labor Code.
To date no severance or outstanding monies as stipulated by the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code have been received. Further, not even the salary from the last period of work has been paid. Effectively, we were laid off with no warning and with no remuneration.
It has been seven long difficult months for many of us to meet the obligations of a normal life.
Without any forms of government unemployment assistance many of us still have housing commitments, small loans, family to support, children to send to school and of course we must all eat. In my case, I am not an unreasonable person and my family does not live above normal means. Further any financial commitments I have were made after careful planning. It weighs heavy on my mind that the bank and credit union will be calling me very soon. It saddens me that I don’t have any information to give them as to when I can make another installment and risk the possibility of losing everything. I am aware that people here, the wider region and around the world are suffering due to this pandemic, but the lack of communication from the company leaves a lot of undesirable situations for persons trying to maneuver through life especially during a pandemic.
At this critical point with uncertainty and outstanding funds from the company many will have to make a decision to relocate extra regionally. The Caribbean will lose a lot of talented, educated, high skill, dedicated employees as aviation demand increases once again. I personally do not know of any “bad eggs” that are trying to stymie efforts to get LIAT in the sky again. What I am aware of is my sisters and brothers suffering. In some cases there are two parents unemployed, single income earner and in many cases with a lot of responsibility.
For every LIAT employee there are about 7-8 persons directly and negatively affected. I cannot even begin to calculate the indirect reach, but I am certain there will be lots of delinquent mortgages, car loans and less money floating in the economy and amongst other things migration of people away from the economy.
It is not our fault the company is restructuring. There are several persons who were tasked with running this vital regional organization that should be held responsible. One such executive manager who allegedly did not make any contributions to the pension plan has already received a Board approved payment from the employee pension funds and has moved on merrily to another political job in the region. Even recently one can see similar missteps that have been made in the past. The court assigned Administrator has personally chosen and have even commended some of the same managers that have contributed to this ongoing situation. It is
also evident that there is some form of political pandering where financial priority is being placed on a “visibility schedule” with an Independence Day Launch. It would be remiss of the Administrator and the company he represents to be led down this rabbit hole of operating a schedule which is not supported by any commercial basis. It is really hard to believe that he would risk being on the wrong side of Caribbean History; Also, jeopardizing the image of their competence to manage future projects. Why would the PM demand the money back if the planned operation fails? Has the Administrator consulted with the Aviation Experts from his company? Have they confirmed that such a venture would make financial sense? Questions like this are harrowing because money is being put into a very risky venture and at a time where major market borders are still closed and the execution of the CARICOM Bubble by individual countries is merely stimulative.
Severance ought to be paid by the shareholders of LIAT. They were privy to the details of the company being in financial trouble. Allegedly some recent years of financial statements were not filed as regulatory required. Now that the ship has run aground the workers are being asked to bear the burden. At this point, we only have sketchy details as to who the new investors will be and how that will affect our status. I pray that any investment deals are made in the interest of regional aviation and the workers who have sacrificed so much. For decades we have begged for transparency and to be heard and still continue to do so.
I can speak for many of my colleagues in expressing hope that the company will take the skies again when it is commercially viable; Even though many of us will not be apart we still hope for a clear, transparent and executable plan charting the way forward. As a result, the majority of us just need closure, but there is little or no information with regards to our severance. We have done so much for the region with so little for so long, please compensate us for outstanding salaries and leave, pension, Clico pension funds and severance so we can move on with our new lives. As time passes it appears that we are no longer part of the conversation and that once operations start again it may be years before we will be properly compensated for years of service. We are desperately awaiting November 20th, 2020 when the Administrator is scheduled to return to court. After seven long months of hardship let there be no further delay in fully compensating the severed workers!