By Emmanuel Joseph
A dedicated LIAT engineer from Barbados, who has served the company for over 40 years, has made an urgent appeal to local authorities and the Antigua-based airline’s administrator to save him from plunging into financial distress.
Francis Ifill said he fears the loss of his severance pay and lifeline pension if his pressing issues are not promptly addressed.
In an emotionally charged interview with Barbados TODAY, Ifill disclosed that beyond the threat to his pension, he faces mounting debts, including a mortgage, while grappling with a medical condition that requires urgent attention, adding an element of life-and-death urgency to his situation.
At the core of Ifill’s struggle is his inability to qualify for severance pay, as he claims to be “held hostage” by LIAT’s court-appointed administrator in Antigua, Cleveland Seaforth.
Despite his role as engineer being made largely redundant, Ifill asserts that the administrator refuses to terminate his employment, leaving him in a perplexing limbo and preventing him from accessing the benefits he desperately needs.
The Antigua and Barbuda government is currently winding up LIAT 1974 Ltd, which was co-owned with Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica. The airline is to be replaced by LIAT 2020 which will see its controlling interest being divested to Nigerian carrier Air Peace.
When the island-hopping carrier collapsed in 2020 89 Barbadian pilots, flight attendants and ground staff were dismissed.
The former employees engaged in a bitter, protracted struggle to receive severance payments. In early July, after three years of waiting, the former LIAT workers from Barbados who were among hundreds from across the region terminated by the airline, started collecting severance pay. This came two months after Mottley said in the Budget debate that Barbados would pay up to $75 000 in cash to each person and any amount above that would be paid in bonds.
However, since July 2020, Ifill has been on half pay, leaving him living “hand-to-mouth” and facing an uncertain future while the bills pile up.
He lamented the lack of communication about his future. He emphasised the irony of his situation, being the only LIAT employee not terminated to date, despite his role being redundant.
Desperate for resolution, he implored the authorities to intervene. He said: “It is starting to feel like I am being spited for just being a good worker. I have been trying to reach everybody [in authority] and I am going nowhere. I am in a pretty dire state because I am getting close to retirement, and I am getting close to a position where I will have nothing after putting in over 40 years of yeoman service, and nobody has been willing to tell me what my future holds.
“I am… out to sea because, to date, I have never been terminated by LIAT. I am the only person who has suffered that fate. And even though my position is largely redundant, LIAT administrator refuses to terminate me, for whatever reason I don’t know. I do absolutely nothing at this point in time, and I have sought for them to just terminate me so that I can qualify for severance and they have basically just refused.”
Ifill’s plea extends to the government, drawing a comparison with the proactive stance of the St Lucia government which paid out all its citizens who were made jobless when LIAT went into administration.
He emphasised that the assistance given to others, including nonnationals, should be extended to him as well.
He told Barbados TODAY: “What is hurtful about it is that you have the government of St Lucia who really started off the ball in helping LIAT workers. They have three persons who are still employed by LIAT 1974 Limited under administration. But when they paid their citizens, they paid everybody. They said, ‘as far as we are concerned, when LIAT went into administration, your services were terminated’.”
“Even though the Government of Barbados argued that it is not severance, it is a gift. That gift, where I am concerned, is tied to ‘but you weren’t severed’. And there is where I got a difficulty with them.”
“I can hardly make my bills, and in a few months when my age of retirement for LIAT comes up, I don’t know what happens to me… because I will have no income, I will have nothing if this continues,” the engineer said.
Ifill called on the administrator, Seaforth, to take a humane approach by issuing his termination letter.
He declared: “….Or it is in the hands of the government (and) the prime minister here to say, ‘well, let’s treat this one person that is left like we have treated all the others, and give him a gift, just as we’ve done for others’….”
In a separate development, some former LIAT employees in Barbados are still awaiting bonds that were promised by the Mia Mottley administration as part of the severance payment, Barbados TODAY has learned.
The government had allocated $10 million for compensation, assuring full reimbursement to those affected by LIAT’s mass terminations in 2020.
Efforts to reach Director of Finance Ian Carrington, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Francine Blackman, and Seaforth, have been unsuccessful.