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#BTEditorial – LIAT former workers finally get resolution

by Barbados Today
4 min read

The long-running matter of the beleaguered former LIAT workers seeking their lawfully entitled severance from the airline had become a national and regional embarrassment.

That shame stretched from Barbados to St Vincent and up to Antigua and Barbuda where the regional carrier had moved its headquarters some years ago from its original home in Bridgetown.

LIAT, in its heyday, played a critical role in the movement of people and cargo around the Caribbean. It was a major contributor to regional integration as people travelled to experience the food, culture and sporting connections we share.

Business and conference activity was also enhanced by LIAT’s extensive flight network. But like too many commercial ventures owned by governments in the region, inefficiency and bureaucracy became endemic problems.

Already on its back and facing prolonged cash flow issues, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the airline was grounded. However, unlike other major carriers that were resuscitated after the pandemic, LIAT entered the intensive care unit with little hope of being revived.

With the Antigua and Barbuda government going alone, the Gaston Browne administration was left with the task of resolving the human resources fallout.

Caught in the middle were almost 90 Barbadian former LIAT employees. Their financial suffering has been well documented and many of us found the case they made for the Barbados government to come to their rescue compelling.

In fact, most observers of labour issues could not understand how former employees of an airline owned by regional governments – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines –  would have been left to languish in the way LIAT workers – big men and women, were forced to beg alms.

The Mottley administration must be commended for providing some level of financial assistance to the Barbadian workers over the past months, as well as those from other islands who were resident here.

Two years ago, the Barbados workers were given a one-off gift of $2 000 by Central Government, giving local authorities time to put other measures in place that would offer further relief over a much longer period.

This, after confirming in 2019 her government’s plan to downsize its financial involvement in LIAT by selling some of its stake in the carrier to Antigua & Barbuda.

In a Ministerial statement, Prime Minister Mottley revealed on June 4, 2019, that her administration would sell part of the major shareholding it has held since the regional airline’s inception 48 years ago. She did not specify the size of the shareholding to be transferred.

Any criticism of the Barbados government’s commitment to the Barbadian former LIAT workers was fully assuaged this week with the pledge given during the 2023 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly to settle the severance payments for about 89 former workers of the collapsed carrier.

“This is a government that sees people, feels people and hears people,” Mottley said, adding, “The Government of Barbados will take responsibility for all the Barbadian workers of LIAT.”

Insisting that the entire debacle involving LIAT had caused her many sleepless nights, Mottley must be applauded for doing right by these workers and not leaving them to the whims of the Antigua and Barbuda government.

In her wrap-up of the Budget Debate in the House of Assembly, she indicated that each former worker will receive up to $75,000 owed to them in severance, and any amount above that which is owed will be settled in Government of Barbados bonds.

Settling the severance bill for these workers will cost government just over $4.07 million, while the bonds will value just under $6 million.

Last year LIAT employees based in Barbados complained of being “disappointed and frustrated” by the way they were treated as they petitioned Prime Minister Mottley, calling for the payment of severance owed to them.

“We have waited and pleaded on deaf ears for the shareholder Governments to do the right thing by seeing that we receive monies owed. Our financial situation is growing extremely dire by the minute,” they wrote in their letter to the Prime Minister.

Those pleas have now been answered and we hope these former airline employees can have some closure and move on with their lives.

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