ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) – Prime Minister Gaston Browne has hinted at the possibility of a new company to administer the affairs of the cash-strapped regional airlines, LIAT, even as he confirmed that talks were ongoing with two potential investors for the airline.
LIAT former major shareholders were the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines and in July last year, the Antigua and Barbuda government secured an order from the High Court for administration for LIAT, naming Cleveland Seaforth as the administrator of the company.
Earlier this year, Seaforth in a letter to regional leaders, said that EC$79 million (US$29 million) in severance is owed to the 564 workers already dismissed by the airline.
Seaforth said that apart from any possible severance which may come from the LIAT estate, the Antigua and Barbuda government had indicated it is prepared to offer the staff up to a maximum of 50 per cent of their severance either by cash, land or government bonds or a combination of the three.
Browne, speaking on his radio programme over the weekend, said that the offer to LIAT workers is still on the table even as it awaits an official response from the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU).
“It is for them to accept the proposal that the government of Antigua and Barbuda extended to them to come up to 50 per cent of their liabilities, primarily their severance liabilities.
“We still have at least two entities that are negotiating with the administrator to become shareholders within the LIAT company. It may have to be a new company because when you look at what is happening presently, the threats that are made, the demands that are made by past staff, members of staff and the union, I am not even sure now that LIAT 1974 Limited will be viable so there may have to be a LIAT 2020….recapitalised and start as a new entity,” Browne told radio listeners.
He said he is hopeful that the two viable investors who the administrator is having discussions with “will come in and bring some capital to the table”.
Last month, the ABWU denied reports that it had rejected an offer made by the government to provide a compassionate payment to the former employees.
ABWU general secretary David Massiah said the union is still awaiting a response from a May 19 letter sent to the court-appointed administrator on the payment to the former workers.
“We think that the offer is something that we would have to base on what we hear, most of us whilst we are not happy that that is what it is, 50 percent is better than nothing, so we never discarded it.
“I mean there are a number of stuff that we still think needs to be answered. It can’t just be carte blanche. We said 50 percent of total earnings of all their entitlements, and they never came back to us,” Massiah said on a radio programme in June.
Prior to its collapse, LIAT, which at the time owed creditors an estimated EC$100 million (US$37 million), flew to 21 destinations, operating an average of 112 daily flights within a complex network combining profitable and uneconomic routes.
The Antigua-based regional airline was forced to suspend services due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and has since announced the resumption of flights on a limited basis to seven destinations across its network.