BARBADOS TODAY: Trade unions representing LIAT workers across the Caribbean will meet virtually next week to examine an offer which hundreds of terminated employees of the Antigua-based airline have been given until yearend to accept.
President of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) David Massiah said on Wednesday that during that Zoom meeting, each union will make its submission on the “compassionate” pay offer from the government of the twin-island nation.
The Gaston Browne administration has proposed to pay 50 per cent of the outstanding severance – in cash, bonds and/or land – owed to pilots, flight attendants, engineers and other employees from Barbados and other regional countries who were sent home in April 2020, and has given them a month to respond to the offer.
“There will be a meeting of all the unions in a couple of days where we will be discussing the situation,” Massiah told Barbados TODAY. “I will be leading that discussion … so that we can make a decision as regards to the deadline that was issued by the government of Antigua.”
Massiah said unions will be notified early next week of the meeting.
“We have to notify everybody to make sure everybody is onboard,” the ABWU president added.
On Tuesday, Antigua’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Lennox Weston served notice that the government will withdraw its offer to the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) and all other former employees at the turn of the New Year.
“We are going to keep it on the table until the New Year and then we are going to move on,” Weston said.
After that, he said, LIAT 1974 Limited, which is currently in administration, could be wound up and LIAT 2020 launched.
“And then they will just follow the law…. They should just follow the law and wind up the company and the accountants will do their calculation, the benefits will then go to the workers and employees.
“The offer is very simple. We are paying 50 per cent of their severance package and they need to sign off for that as final payment. If not, they can then do what all people do in a bankrupt company – the company is wound up, the assets are sold, the net assets are then divided according to the law, with the ranking of individuals…spread out among all the beneficiaries,” Weston added.
He contended that while the workers have a right to refuse the government’s offer, any benefits derived from a liquidated company would be less than the existing offer.
“They may think otherwise; they have thought so and they have rejected the offer. LIALPA went by themselves and they were given the same answer. We have not heard any difference from them, other than they rejected the offer so far,” Weston said.
LIALPA Chairman Patterson Thompson was adamant that the offer first put on the table by Prime Minister Browne was not feasible. Browne, meantime, has said the proposal is non-negotiable.
In an open letter to the Antiguan Prime Minister, dated December 1, 2021, Thompson said the pilots continue to express gratitude for the correspondence dated November 20, 2021, which identifies a modified version of the September 3, 2021 concept to pay all terminated and soon-to-be terminated employees.
This, he said, is the only concept, to date, that offers some financial relief to all staff members.
However, the LIALPA leader recorded the union’s disappointment that the Prime Minister’s “caring” Cabinet was not convinced by him to award the workers 50 per cent of all entitlements, including vacation pay, and not just the severance payment.
“You stated that you understood the gravity of the situation and you stood by your word. It is also very unfortunate that you have closed the door to further discussions on the issue,” Thompson lamented.
He complained that LIALPA had trouble deciphering several aspects of the offer and therefore needed some questions answered. These include when the 30 per cent cash will be available, how these funds will be disbursed, the location of the plots of land, whether the lands were developed or undeveloped, and the value, per square foot, of the land on offer.
Thompson said if the situation is not settled soon, each former employee may have to make an individual decision on whether they will accept the offer.
In a letter dated November 19, 2021, addressed to Thompson from Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee, the Antigua and Barbuda government broke down the initial offer and included a new payout cash proposal from the sale of LIAT chattel assets, excluding the aircraft which are owned by the Caribbean Development Bank.
The compassionate payment would be either in cash, bonds or land or a combination thereof, wherever possible. The bonds would be issued for a term of 10-years at a rate of two per cent.
It added that where lands form part of the offer, Cabinet will waive the non-citizen landholding licence for employees who are not citizens of the country.
The Browne administration has also agreed to waive the stamp duty on the transfer of lands from the Crown to any former LIAT employee, as a part of the “compassionate” payment agreement.
Alternatively, and in lieu of accepting the preceding offer, a former LIAT employee may opt for a scholarship in any field of study, capped at the value of the employee’s severance, offered by the University of the West Indies, Five Islands Campus. That scholarship would be transferrable at the request of a former employee, to his/her children or agreed family member, in the event the employee decides not to take the scholarship himself/herself.