Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that while it is true that he has not met with LIAT workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines nine weeks after their union sought an appointment with him, he has nothing new to say to them.
Gonsalves was speaking on radio last week in response to a press release in which Jeremiah Howard, president of the LIAT Workers Union said that the airline’s SVG staff learnt by social media two months ago that LIAT (1974) Ltd, was going into liquidation.
Howard said that in a June 8 letter to Gonsalves, the SVG workers requested a meeting to discuss the matter.
“The Prime Ministers of Barbados, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda have met with the LIAT staff of their respective countries regarding the same issues,” he said, noting that this was not the case in SVG, where Gonsalves was chair of LIAT’s shareholder governments.
Gonsalves, speaking on NBC Radio, said,
“Mr. Howard, the president of the local LIAT Workers Union — I see it said that I haven’t met them. And it is true. But I’ve spoken to Mr. Howard twice on the radio (sic), and I have written, I wrote the letter on June 29 to all the staff members as the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and a shareholder in LIAT and up to the point, the chairman of the shareholders, when I address the issue, among other things, is the outstanding salaries and severance.”
Gonsalves said he spoke to Howard and “I gave him all the details,” adding that LIAT, however, is now in administration.
“I could meet them but I don’t have anything new to say other than what I’ve spoken to Mr. Howard about and to reaffirm that up to the end of May, overall in LIAT was $83.9 million for severance calculated in accordance with the collective agreement.”
The prime minister said that for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there are 41 workers with about $1.4 million in severance due, but reiterated that LIAT is in administration.
“No shareholder government has paid any money to LIAT workers working in their own jurisdiction,” he said, adding that the governments want to see what’s the outcome of the administration or the liquidation process.
He noted that there was a liquidation process underway, but the Antiguan parliament, at the instance of Prime Minister Gaston Browne passed an amendment to the Companies Act to put in a particular provision relating to administration rather than liquidation and that is what is happening right now to LIAT.
“And, of course, their vacation payments to be made for St. Vincent is about EC$400,000,” Gonsalves said.
“If they want a meeting to hear that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on a voluntary basis is going to pay them half the money — I see Gaston Browne is asking for the workers — the man who is driving the administration process — to take a haircut for the severance of 50% and ask him that they can put the rest, as I understand the proposal, in the investment in the new company — in the reformed LIAT,” the prime minister said.
“All [of] that is going on. Those things are in the public domain, what has been said. And I will talk to Mr. Howard any day and he knows that he has access to me. I see some people say that I have time to talk to people from Layou but I don’t have time to talk to the workers,” Gonsalves said, referring to a meeting he had at Cabinet Room with footballers from the Central Leeward town.
Some persons have suggested that the meeting is a partisan political move ahead of the next general elections, expected by year-end.
“I don’t know since when DJs and other persons who don’t know anything about the prime minister’s scheduling — that I must know take advice from them as to who I must see in preference to others,” Gonsalves said.
“I value what the LIAT workers in St. Vincent and Grenadines have done and I have spoken with the general principle that I don’t expect any government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to act as a bandit. I am hopeful that persons associated with this matter don’t want, in a political season, to play politics with me.
“And I don’t think that they’re doing it. But I say I’m hoping. What I will do is speak at any time with the workers or the union representative where I have something new to say. If they want to find out — I mean I can talk to — quite easily to Mr. Howard on the phone anytime he wants to talk about it,” Gonsalves said.