Several terminated Barbadian employees of the Antigua-headquartered LIAT (1974) Limited broke down in tears on Thursday evening after Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced in Parliament that the Government will pay their three-year-old outstanding severance to the tune of $10 million.
It was during her wrap up speech for the 2023 Budget debate that Mottley, who is also Minister of Finance, said the words the long-suffering workers have waited years to hear: “We want therefore to announce tonight, that the Government of Barbados will take responsibility for all of the Barbadian workers and that the Government of Barbados will pay up to $75,000 in cash to each and every person in terms of their calculated severance liability and that any number for severance over $75,000 will be paid in bonds.”
She revealed that the 89 Barbadians who were impacted when the collapsed company terminated hundreds of its employees from across the region in 2020 without paying severance, would be fully compensated.
Neil Cave, the ex-LIAT senior pilot who had been spearheading a relentless fight for the workers to be paid outstanding monies, told Barbados TODAY his telephone has been inundated with calls from colleagues, some in tears and others expressing disbelief at the news.
“The right thing has been done and our suffering is over, and I can’t even express that in words. Our suffering is over. My wife is a former worker…and when I called to give her the news, she broke down in tears. I have had similar calls from people who simply broke out in tears…They just can’t believe it,” Cave reported.
The former pilot said that during the time workers had been waiting to get their entitlements, some had lost homes, vehicles and credit cards and many had lost faith in the shareholder governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.
But tonight, Prime Minister Mottley explained that her administration could not have afforded to pay the Bajan employees’ severance any earlier due to insufficient funds.
She pointed out that when she met with the workers’ representatives two years ago, she informed them that the government could not handle the severance at the time.
“I said to them at that time, I could not deal with the issue of your severance. We were in all kinds of discussions, but above all else, we just did not have the fiscal capacity to do it then, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” she stated.
She recalled that in May 2021, as a compassionate gesture, the government agreed to give the Barbadians who did not receive severance, $2,000 as a one-off cash gift and a $2,000 per month advance for one year which was to be repaid at a future date from any severance payment settlement.
Mottley then announced details of the severance, with payment arrangements to be completed by the Director of Finance (Ian Carrington) when he returns to the island next week.
“My office has been doing work and has done a detailed sheet that now puts me in a position, I believe, to put aspects of this to rest.
“So that the persons at LIAT who have had to endure grave hardships, anxiety, we understand. And believe you me, if I could have done it earlier, I would have done it earlier. But I believe that the opportunity that was presented to us in between these two programmes and with what we have with respect to the outlay, has allowed us to make some decisions that are in the favour of the people of Barbados,” the finance minister declared.
Mottley said the $75,000 in cash will cost the government just over $4 million while the price tag for the bonds has been put at a little under $6 million.
“The Government of Barbados therefore will make the appropriate arrangements. I have instructed the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs who is on duty leave at the Inter-American Development Bank meetings that as soon as he returns next week he is to meet with the representatives of the LIAT employees and put in place the payments for the $75,000 in cash for everyone…,” the Prime Minister told the House of Assembly.
Mottley said she wished she was a fairy godmother who could give people their every wish.
Meanwhile, Cave, the spokesman for some of the Barbadian ex-workers, said the ex-local staff are elated at the news.
“We are extremely proud and happy that the Prime Minister decided to do right by us; to do what is an extremely honourable thing and I know this would have had to go through Cabinet. So on behalf of all of the workers, I would say a very sincere thank you,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“The suffering that we’ve gone through, having to beg creditors, families and close friends over the last few years, it has been a very difficult time,” Cave recalled.
“The money is one thing, but at the end of the day, the feeling of being left in the wilderness…As you know St Lucian workers would have been paid some months ago by the St Lucia Prime Minister, and we felt very happy for them. But at the same time, we were left as human beings, wondering what about our government. But tonight, not only was the honourable thing done but an explanation was given…and that explanation was that the timing was not right and the fiscal space was not there,” the ex-LIAT pilot noted.
Another local colleague who preferred to remain anonymous welcomed the news but said he will jump for joy when the money hits his bank account.
Yet another Barbadian former employee who was delighted at Prime Minister Mottley’s announcement expressed doubt as to whether he was included in the 89 workers in line for severance because he has a case in the Antigua High Court against the company for terminating him in 2017 without pension or severance.
Francis Ifill, an engineer, told Barbados TODAY that even though he is the only Barbadian who had not received a termination letter from LIAT, he is still happy that severance is being finally paid.
And the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which had been representing the interests of the Bajan pilots in the severance issue, welcomed the news of the promised payout.
General Secretary Richard Greene said late Thursday night it was long in coming after several employees incurred debts they have to repay and lost their homes and vehicles.
“Some would have had to liquidate assets, some would have depleted all their savings in order to survive,” Greene said.
LIAT (1974) Limited is currently under court-approved administration.