The Usual Suspects
This is an open letter to Mr Seaforth the administrator of LIAT, the politicians, and the people of Antigua & Barbuda.
I am a LIAT employee and I feel compelled to speak out. Not only because I was wronged at the hands of the company bent on abusing the labour code and its employees but because I am concerned by how this restructuring is being conducted.
Mr Seaforth it would appear has made the fatal mistake of drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid served up by the usual suspects. These are the same people that ran the ship aground in the first place. Fixing this, is quite bluntly, beyond them.
Despite having not addressed the issue of severance or reemployment of the employees they forced out into the cold on April 1st management or, what is left of it, are attempting to plan and implement an ill thought out “visibility schedule”. It is not that a visibility schedule is without merit, what is concerning is who is planning it and their ability to get it right.
This schedule has been planned and spear-headed by these two directors without any input from the commercial or scheduling departments, the vast majority of which was laid off in April. It has been planned without any real costing or revenue projections, market data or demand forecasting by people who are frankly not competent to plan such a schedule. The head of the commercial department, the Chief Operating Officer (COO), who is also a director was actively excluded and only became aware of these plans after the fact, and upon querying said plans was promptly laid off. For the uninitiated, the commercial department is the single most important department when it comes to planning a schedule.
Also concerning is the recent disclosure that the preferred creditor status being given to the Antigua government as a result of putting in money to run this planned “visibility schedule” means that should it fail the requirement to settle this debt first will dilute any monies available to pay severance. Workers are essentially being asked to fund an ill thought out experiment.
No one wants to be back at work more than the employees but trusting a recovery to these individuals is likely to do more harm than good. When this plan was first presented a few weeks ago these individuals could not even answer basic questions about the cost or the projected income or how they would overcome the myriad of challenges they face. More worrying is that as recent as the 14th of October, weeks after initially discussing these challenges, there are still no answers.
Due to non-payment there is currently no passenger reservation system and even if the debts owed to the provider could be cleared a LIAT schedule cannot be uploaded into the global database to make the flights bookable online because…wait for it…these same directors have laid off the IT specialist that handles this function.
The Administrator and the Prime Minister of Antigua do not seem to agree as to the number of aircraft to be operated nor is there even surety that these aircraft are available for operation. Even if the aircraft were available and flyable there would be no one to fly them, or handle them on the ground as to date no plan as to how the necessary recurrent training of flight crew and other staff will be accomplished by the proposed start date has been presented much less commenced.
In the case of the flight crew, getting all the necessary pieces in place would be nothing short of a miracle as the DFO has also laid off all the ground school trainers capable of conducting refresher training. By comparison, every other regional airline conducted minimal training of flight crew during the shutdown period to keep all or at least some of their crew in an operational state. LIAT has instead opted instead to forgo this and to instead keep employed fifty-four (54) largely useless managers who have been maintained to monitor non-functional stations and departments instead of critical key personnel. This failing falls squarely on the Director of Flight Operations.
The suitability of these managers has long been questioned. In the case of the DFO the individual was appointed despite not meeting the requirements for the position against the strong objection of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association. The Association communicated its concern formally (see attached letter) by correspondence dated 8th September 2015. The company responded by subsequently rewriting the requirements for the position of DFO after the
individual’s appointment. None the less the individual has never quite lived up to the demands of the position and instead, went on to ultimately prove the Association right by establishing an unbroken record of spectacular failure.
Another manager and director whose solid track record of failure, is eclipsed only by the DFO is the Director of Maintenance (DME)’s claim to infamy is their utterly botched supervision of the acquisition of the Caribbean Star Dash 8 aircraft. They followed this up with the loss on their watch of a LIAT aircraft and a significant portion of the fleets records (without any offsite backups) and a hanger complete with tools and spare parts (including an engine) in a fire. The financial aftereffects of which haunted LIAT for many years after. These two failings are the root cause of a large portion of LIAT’s headaches over the last decade.
These two are supported by the Director of Human Resources who’s handling of the current crisis has objectively made things worse at every step. This is not surprising as over the years her leadership of the HR department and its consistent mishandling of HR matters under her watch has spawned approximately forty (40) lawsuits against the company.
At a time when the vast majority of airlines around the world have opted to negotiate deals with its staff the director of HR (acting assumedly on the behalf of the companies executive as a whole) decided to unilaterally lay off staff. In a stunning string of unforced errors, they managed to BOTH disregard the normal LIFO layoff principals and STILL lay off critical staff fulfilling key roles while opting to keep fifty-four (54) non-essential managers. If one is going to disregard contracts, and throw the labour code in the bin would it not make sense to at least do so for a good reason? As a Human Resource professional, one would have expected better.
Additionally, staff were only issued a three (3) month lay off period instead of the maximum six (6) months available under law. This made severance due on July 1st, in the heart of the Covid-19 crisis when there was no possible way to contemplate a restart. This blunder has had the effect of saddling LIAT with an additional $84 million XCD millstone around its neck. In contrast Caribbean Airlines was able to negotiate an across the board salary cut for all its employees so that all or as many as possible could be kept employed.
The simple truth is that these people are not capable of leading us out of this crisis. Prime Minister Browne’s plan to restructure and preserve LIAT is a good one and many think history will ultimately reflect this. However, if these people are allowed to manage the restart of operations in the manner they are attempting then it is likely do more harm than good. This requires the achievement of things outside the capabilities of this current management team.
To Mr Seaforth and the politicians, if you insist in going down this road with these people then do right by the employees first. They have had enough pain inflicted on them by this management;
- Return to staff the outstanding pension and other deductions that the CFO deducted and failed to pay in. At a minimum stop stalling and provide to the unions the figures detailing the exact amounts in question.
- Issue staff either a recall letter or a formal redundancy letter so that they may move on with their lives if they so desire. Some employers will demand to see a redundancy letter before offering one employment. End this proverbial hostage situation you have placed the employees in.
- Pay staff the outstanding salaries you are with-holding for time already worked and Pay outstanding pre Covid-19 back pay being withheld for the company.
- Formally provide each employee so entitled with correspondence detailing the exact amounts of their severance and notice pay. Pay, or at least commit in writing to a timeline for the payment of all severance entitlements or a portion there of. People have been laid off for 6 months and desperately need these funds.
I say to you Mr Seaforth, seek better guidance. Do not break the trust placed in you by the court by pandering to political optics and hair brained schemes. Your name, your company’s reputation, the legacy of an Antiguan national treasure, a great Caribbean institution, and the future of over six hundred employees hang in the balance. The stakes are too high, and this is far too much to entrust to a management team that has proven time and time again it cannot deliver.
“Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities.”