Patterson Thompson, the Barbados-based Leeward Island Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) boss, has issued an appeal to LIAT’s prior Chairman of the former shareholding governments and Prime Minister of SVG, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. The trade unionist was being interviewed on Hot 97’s AMMayhem morning show when he, a self-proclaimed optimist, shared his exhortation. A move, he said, which was prompted by St. John’s offer to settle half of the millions owed, to the pilots and other staff members, as severance liability.
“Basically we’re in a situation where we’ve been struggling for a year without pay and Prime Minister Gaston Browne has put a proposal on the table but we need to have Prime Minister Gonsalves’ leadership before – he did an interview with Mary St. Clair [in] 2013 where he used his leverage and his leadership and his weight to bring support to LIAT.
“And I’m respectfully asking him to bring that support; get those governments on board – Dr. Mitchell, Prime Minister Mottley, Prime Minister Chastanet, Prime Minister Timothy Harris [and] Prime Minister Roosevelt – get them on board to help out LIAT; add to the 50 percent.
“We are struggling. It’s been a year without any pay; people are liquidating and you know the thing about it is when you have these situations [where] people selling houses and vehicles there’s a knock on effect. So it’s a serious situation. I know there’s a pandemic and everybody have to take care of the populations… but we are reaching a dire situation.”
When LIAT, the financially unstable yet de facto regional carrier, was officially grounded almost 9 months ago several hundred former employees across the Caribbean were left with equally unstable financial futures, through no fault of their own. But even before the collapse, which some say was due in no small measure to the ravages of COVID-19, the employer/employee relationship was less than ideal.
Even as the LIALPA and its Vincentian counterpart is attempting to corral the support of the past shareholders, a class action suit is before the Antigua and Barbuda High Court filed by 10 pilots acting as private citizens. The bone of contention being a separate “$5 million in pension they say was “unlawfully” taken from their pay packets,” Barbados Today reports.
In a separate interview with Asbert News Network, LIAT Workers’ Union St. Vincent President Jeremiah Howard described the litigation as “premature” and agreed with his Bajan colleague that this particular turn of events was “distracting” from the collective focus of attracting more participation in the compassionate payout arrangement that was proposed by the new majority shareholder, Antigua and Barbuda.
Both the Barbadian and Vincentian Prime Ministers sold their governments’ stake, amounting to 60 percent of the total shares in the fledging airline, for a nominal fee of $1.
Ever the idealist, Thompson vowed to remain optimistic even in light of Prime Minister Mottley’s continued silence on the issue of unpaid severance and Dr. Gonsalves’ recent declaration to his Parliament that “the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as a shareholder in LIAT (1974) Ltd., does not acknowledge that it has a legal obligation to make any severance payment or accord holidays with pay beyond that which, if any, arises from the administration of the company.”
Thompson told Hot 97, “LIAT is a limited liability company and when it is wound up the shareholders do not have a legal liability; but let me put it to you this way – all classes of workers in LIAT have been taking zeros, we have been taking one and two percent increases in salary. We’ve had cost of living rising above the value of the salary over a yearly basis.
“So the workers have sacrificed over a period of time so to abandon us now in our greatest time of need – it doesn’t sit well and there is a moral obligation for the Prime Ministers to at least try and find a way.
“Now Prime Minister Browne has put land, St. Vincent has a lot of land maybe they’d be able to help out with offering lands to help the Vincentians whether they are in St. Vincent or not because we have Vincentian pilots and Vincentian flight attendants that are not living in St. Vincent but they worked for LIAT….
“[Dr. Gonsalves] is telling you that he doesn’t have to pay but I am trying to tell you… we are human beings and we are suffering just like anybody else and the fact of the matter is that we have carried all of these Prime Ministers, all of the tourists [and] all the West Indians safely for 64 years – look at LIAT’s safety record, it’s second to none!”
“I wouldn’t say he [PM Gonsalves] just doesn’t care. I think there’s some kind of agro at the level of the PMs when it comes to LIAT. I don’t think he’s against the workers; he’s always championed the workers’ rights. Sometimes we’ve disagreed on certain issues but I think we need to step back from the political rancor and the insularity and deal with this as a CARICOM [issue]….
“I have to be an optimist here. I have to believe that my Prime Ministers are not going to abandon us in our greatest time of need. I have no choice, I have to do it… I have people depending on me to see what I can do to try and increase their compassionate severance – I could have not come on the radio if I take that view.
“I have to bat for the people and I’m saying: we are reaching a state of crises now, I am declaring SOS a mayday in aviation language. We need help.”
Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves is yet to meet with the local union representatives on the LIAT severance liability issue, even though a meeting was requested “since June 9 last year,” union President Jeremiah Howard told ANN. Meanwhile PM Gaston Browne has offered a combination of deferred bonds, land and cash as a one-off payment to the affected former employees based in Antigua.