The Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) has expressed its disappointment at the failure of regional governments to discuss the issue of severance payment owed to former employees of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
Last Tuesday, the prime ministers of Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and a representative from Barbados met virtually to discuss whether to revamp LIAT (1974) Ltd or create a new airline. The issue of severance was not on the table for discussion.
“We find it disgraceful that discussions on a new entity could be addressed with such urgency, while over 600 former employees who continue to face harsh economic conditions have not been given equal attention or any attention at all,” LIALPA said in a statement.
Last week, the newly-elected Grenada Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell, said the meeting had discussed air transportation in the Caribbean amidst concerns that both regional and international travellers are finding it very expensive and difficult to commute.
LIAT is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said previously that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and SVG to turn over their shares in LIAT to St. John’s for one EC dollar (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) .
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Browne appealed to Caribbean trade unions to re-think their positions regarding the latest offer made to laid-off workers of the airline.
The Grenada Prime Minister told reporters that LIAT (1974) Limited “is bankrupt and that has been made clear and it is in receivership”.
LIAT (1974) limited in June 2020, entered into court-appointed administration after a high court judge in Antigua and Barbuda granted a petition for the cash-strapped pan-Caribbean carrier’s reorganisation. The Guyana-born Cleveland Seaforth, has been appointed LIAT’s administrator for the duration of proceedings. The airline owes former employees millions of dollars in severance and other payments.
“Where we are now is finding appropriate air travel for the OECS in particular and whether it is LIAT, a new version of LIAT or any other carrier we are really interested in finding appropriate air travel for the OECS.
“I can certainly say it will not be LIAT (1974) because obviously that entity is bankrupt and no one is reviving that entity. As you may be aware, I think there is LIAT (2020) which currently operates out of Antigua and has two planes in service,” Mitchell said.
But in its statement, LIALPA said it remains optimistic and hopeful that payment of the outstanding entitlements would be satisfactorily addressed at subsequent meetings of regional prime ministers.
“We have always advocated the importance of the airline for regional integration, tourism, and to regional economies,” LIALPA said, recalling that LIAT (1974) Ltd has made significant contributions to the relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters, and that the airline transported much-needed medical staff through the region in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yet, the four shareholder prime ministers found it fit to shut it down,” said LIALPA, noting that the regional governments are now realising the necessity of a regional carrier or a new LIAT.
“We strongly encourage the shareholder prime ministers and other regional leaders to emulate the Prime Minister of St Lucia the Honourable Philip Pierre in declaring in Parliament that he will pay all owed entitlements to former St. Lucian employees of LIAT (1974) Ltd.
“Now that a second decision to liquidate is a reality again, when can the workers who have been without monies for the last two years and three months expect some relief, considering that this can be a long process?”
LIALPA said that the terminated employees find it crippling to survive under these dire and austere conditions, adding “we need relief now”. (BT/CMC)