It’s up to LIAT’s former shareholder governments to foot the bill of outstanding severance payments to severed employees, said Antigua and Barbuda on Wednesday as it moves to get the regional administrations to compensate their nationals.
In statements from Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting in St John’s, the Office of the Prime Minister said: The Cabinet agreed that a moral obligation exists to pay severance to former LIAT employees throughout the countries where LIAT once operated.
“The Government of Antigua and Barbuda will make a special plea to all regional governments, through the Administrator appointed by the Court under the amended Bankruptcy law, to make payments to their nationals after negotiations with the several unions that represented the LIAT workers.”
The development comes mere days after hundreds of LIAT workers who were terminated late last year penned a statement, widely circulated online, calling on the shareholder governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, to come to their rescue.
The ex-staffers said in a statement: “Imagine waking up one day after decades of diligently labouring for an employer and this employer you trusted sends you home while withholding even the salary you have already worked for. Imagine the pain of being forced to endure the current global pandemic without any financial help all the while having families to support, bills to pay, and this, in circumstances where that employer has sent you home without a penny of due entitlements.”
Describing their situation as a dark reality, the ex-employees accused Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne of adding insult to injury by enacting legislation to prohibit the government in St John’s from being sued.
This group included pilots, flight attendants, engineers and ground support personnel.
At the time the layoffs and terminations were made effective, LIAT was majority-owned by four CARICOM shareholder governments.
The terminated workers noted that the company was publicly touted as an essential service which was critical for regional connectivity.
They said: “The shocking and troubling reality now is that these former employees have not received any monies legally due to them, inclusive of severance entitlements despite numerous pleas to those who are responsible.
“This ongoing ordeal is nothing short of despicable. The deplorable handling of this matter is having a catastrophic impact on hundreds of families in the region. Even the innocent children in these households are victims of this injustice and this is not the Caribbean Way.”
At Wednesday’s Cabinet briefing, Minister of Information Melford Nicholas said the plight facing LIAT workers must not be ignored.
He told journalists: “It is understandable why the dislocated workers would have angst…clearly there are members of our respective societies and we cannot ignore that fact that through no fault of their own there has been this economic dislocation.
“What the Government is proposing to do is to come up with a package of benefits that could ameliorate some of their sufferings. We are certainly going to avail ourselves of engagements with another member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to see whether we can do similar treatments to alleviate some of that hurt and suffering.”
The Antigua government also said it would be offering scholarships to the University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus to its own nationals who once worked for LIAT, in order to enable them to re-tool.