Antigua Observer – More than half of the EC$2 million which was made available to severed LIAT workers in Antigua has gone unclaimed – eight months after the offer was made.
While the Antigua government accepted no legal liability for the collapse of LIAT, on December 20, – a year and a half after the Supreme Court appointed an administrator to control the airline’s operations – the state offered former employees 50 percent of the severance owed to them.
The offer has been made in the form of cash, bonds and land, but most of the former employees continue to reject the terms of what Prime Minister Gaston Browne described as a “compassionate” offer.
“We’ve offered them a very generous offer, and I am appealing to them to accept and let us move forward and settle this issue.
“Again, we accept no liability, but just a caring government that wants to bring them some relief. I am being told that we have over a million dollars still in the account after we made two million dollars available to them.
“So, if they so hungry and so broke, why they not taking the money?” Browne asked.
In fact, LIAT’s court-appointed administrator, Cleveland Seaforth, told state media that 150 employees have not come forward to accept the offer.
“We are presently holding another EC$1,000,060 to be distributed to 150 of the terminated employees.
“It is fair to say that in recent months, people have not really come to collect cheques. So about 50 percent of the money that the government made available for the payment of severance is still there and can easily be paid out.
“From my perspective, severance is the obligation of LIAT (1974) and it could only be paid from a disposal of assets,” Seaforth explained.
An estimated US$80,000 dollars is owed in severance to these workers, but PM Browne believes that this is as good as it may get.
LIAT has been operating a reduced schedule with a limited workforce since November 2020. Hundreds of ex-staff have been clamouring for their cash since the pandemic put the brakes on travel in March that year.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), David Massiah, is refuting claims made by PM Browne that the resistance of LIAT employees to accept the compassionate payment offer is fuelled by the political motives of the union.
On Thursday, PM Browne implied that the union had political motives to delay the settlement and was misguiding the former employees in the hopes of sabotaging a resolution.
But Massiah told Observer media on Friday that the workers have never been opposed to the offer, nor has the ABWU ever sought help from the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) on this matter.
“I don’t know where we have gone and said we do not accept. Our challenge continues to be the way how government has rolled out this particular process and [the way that they have been treating] the workers along the way.
“In my capacity, at no time did the ABWU reach out to the UPP to ask or have any discussions on that matter of LIAT, and we are quite aware that we are an independent organisation,” Massiah said.
The problem, he said, is not with the union’s stance on behalf of their workers, but with the lack of adequate communication on the issue from the prime minister.
“What the union and the workers would have done is give the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister the option to go forward, but he has failed, and that is what it is. That is what he has not accepted.
“He has failed, because he has not communicated properly, and they expect to bully you into the position.
“So, I just want to say that the ABWU is not holding no card or grief for the UPP or any government anywhere; we are independent in our position, and the positions that we represent are that of the workers that are our paying members,” Massiah added.
Amidst the debate, a new airline has expressed interest in investing in the new version of LIAT, and Seaforth said the prospects look quite promising.
LIAT (1974) Ltd is expected to be liquidated and a new carrier, LIAT 2020, will officially be established.
The intention is for a West African-operated airline dubbed Antigua Airways to work with LIAT to fly passengers coming from West Africa to destinations near Antigua.
According to the administrator, LIAT 2020 is currently examining a draft offer, which will be followed by discussions.