KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC ) — The union representing former employees of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, has described as “unconscionable,” the failure of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines government to deal with the matter of severance payment as well as issue an official response to the collapse of the airline three years ago.
President of the LIAT Workers Union (LWU), Jeremiah Howard, said the workers continue to be dismayed by the lack of “care or concern” demonstrated by the government, recalling “we wholeheartedly stood with the management and leaders to support this airline — critical to regional travel and our Caribbean citizens, during its most challenging times.
“We are quite aware that COVID-19 brought about a tremendous amount of challenges to all governments, and at no time did we expect an immediate solution. It was only reasonable to allow the government to assess their fiscal position and to readjust where necessary; but after three years, a severance payment of approximately EC$1.1 million for 43 workers is unreasonable”.
The major shareholders of the Antigua-based airline, which entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
LIAT, prior to entering into administration, had been servicing several regional destinations and has since scaled down its operations and is now servicing Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten.
Earlier this month, Barbados joined St. Lucia in providing severance payments for its nationals that had been employed with the airline and the Antigua and Barbuda government announced this week that it is giving thought to providing 32% of severance liability to former LIAT (1974 Ltd) staff members “in an effort to settle its moral obligation to the former staff members.
“The government of Antigua and Barbuda owned a 32 per cent share in LIAT (1974 Ltd) and cannot reasonably be expected to bear a bigger share of the burden than it may be legally required to contribute, had the airline owned assets sufficient to meet its debts obligations. It is estimated it will cost about EC$10 million,” the Gaston Browne government said in a statement following the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Howard said that as the airline enters the third anniversary of its collapse “ to date, the progress or lack thereof, is insignificant as the workers have not been compensated or remunerated”.
He said prior to the collapse of the airline, the unions in the region were engaged in periodical meetings with management and the shareholding prime ministers or their representatives.
“This third anniversary of the collapse, without being able to secure an audience, or an official response, concerning the severance issue is unconscionable. To simply ignore and not engage the very workers whose incomes subsidise the airline by delayed salaries, salary cuts and salary freezes, is totally unacceptable.”
Howard said that the LWU applauds the governments of Barbados and St. Lucia “for their understanding and support of the workers with the offer of cash and bonds, noting that since 2020, all other “governments communicated with their workers after the dissolution of the airline, even though they were unable at the time to provide any financial solution.
“This is very commendable, and it begs the question as to why the LIAT St Vincent workers have not been able to secure a meeting with our Prime minister — the chairman of the shareholder governments.”
Howard said he was also supportive of the statements made by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley when she announced the compensation package for Barbadian LIAT workers, adding that the statement had “perfectly encapsulated” LIAT’s service to the people of the Caribbean over the years.
“From the students going off to university needing a break with overweight with their books and personal items, to the executives and Government officials being afforded express check-in to accommodate their busy schedules, we, the workers, heard, saw and understood our passengers.
“To the sick person having to rush overseas for medical attention or someone having to get back home because of a family emergency, we heard, we saw and we felt you. In so many ways we went above and beyond to keep the region moving, all the whilst contributing to the richness and advancement of Caribbean citizens and culture.
“We thank all those who have shown support and we hope that this LIAT issue will be settled before another anniversary comes around. At the expense of our workers, this issue may prove to be the catalyst for change as to how governments engage labour issues across the region,” Howard added.