Prime Minister Gaston Browne called on Bridgetown to meet in a last-ditch effort to save the regional airline from demise.
Browne, who was addressing members of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) in St John’s when he made the comments, also revealed that yesterday, he wrote the Prime Ministers of the two major stakeholders – Mia Mottley of Barbados and Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines – asking them to attend a final meeting to discuss his proposals for reorganizing LIAT.
“So, in a last-ditch effort, I have requested a meeting for next Monday, which I believe I will get, to look at the possible reorganizational plan. We should have that plan completed by Friday,” the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister announced.
Browne claimed that at the recent Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Summit to discuss the broader issue of air connectivity in the region, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines were “hell-bent” on liquidating LIAT without being provoked.
He appealed to the trade union to back his plan to reorganize the company while telling them that liquidation as proposed by Bridgetown and Kingstown could leave them with nothing and unemployed.
“The fact is, they are not interested in starting a new LIAT. So in that sense, they are trying to also kill the brand. So, you can’t even argue that if there is a new LIAT that maybe the brand could be sold to a new LIAT for a few million dollars. Even though that may not necessarily cover a significant portion of your staff costs, at least you will get something for it. Those are discussions that they have failed to entertain,” the Antiguan leader told the ABWU.
In further seeking support for his plan to keep the LIAT brand alive under a restructured operation, Browne singled out Barbados as the shareholder which benefited greatest from the regional carrier but yet it was insisting on liquidation, an option Browne described as dangerous.
“The issue here is that LIAT would have moved in the region of about 700,000 individuals per year to Barbados…and when you look at the amounts that they charged for their head tax and even the spend in Barbados, I guarantee you that Barbados would have gotten the majority of the benefits of the operations of LIAT,” he stated.
“But yet they are trying to use their majority shareholding position to run rough shod over other shareholders, minority shareholders including Antigua and Barbuda,” Browne claimed.
Browne therefore outlined his plan to the union, but warned its members his solution would involve some pain.
“But you are better off having some pain rather than having parts of your body amputated. So for example, it requires a haircut, that is, for the reorganization to work. It requires a haircut by all creditors. So we are asking staff to take a 50 per cent haircut. We are asking the shareholder governments that are owed tens of millions of dollars to take a 100 per cent haircut, that is to write off all of their liabilities,” he declared.
Browne said he had also sent out “some feelers” to the other creditors, some of whom have shown an interest in cooperating to make sure “we can create a viable LIAT going forward.”
He suggested that if Antigua and Barbuda gets the support it requires for a restructured LIAT, there is hope for even those employees who would be laid off initially.
“Even though we downsized LIAT, as business picks up, you can always increase the staff complement. So even those who may not be re-employed immediately, they stand a chance of being re-employed based on experience, sometime in the future as the demand for air service, or transportation grows in the coming years,” he added.
“And it will pick back up; but we all recognize that in the next year for sure, there will be, or continue to be a significant reduction in the demand for travel. And that is why LIAT may have to carry less assets, less staff in order to survive in the interim,” Browne told the meeting which sources close to the gathering told Barbados TODAY had no official representation by the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) or the other trade unions in Antigua apart from ABWU.