The former employees of LIAT 1974 Ltd. are hard-working, intelligent and talented individuals who understand their value. Moreover, the unions representing these workers comprise a team of competent and experienced professionals who have a long track record of successful negotiations.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, how many times will you attempt to bully and disgrace the unions and the workers into accepting without any negotiation an offer that is anything but compassionate.
Your last series of misleading and outright deceptive comments on this matter accused the workers and the unions of being inflexible and unwilling to negotiate. However, it is the unions that have been pleading for dialogue with your administration and the court-appointed administrator, by way of written correspondence, for almost two years.
The workers, by contrast, have been extraordinarily flexible with the shareholder governments on this matter. Do I need to remind you that it was the said workers who agreed in principle to your suggestion of a “haircut” on their entitlements in order to save the airline?
But you, Mr. Gaston Browne, have since taken a unilateral approach as to how this settlement of terminal benefits is configured.
In a correspondence dated May 19, 2021, addressed to Mr. Cleveland Seaforth, the Union indicated its willingness to “favorably and willingly accept” the 50% compassionate offer, but with certain conditionalities which were outlined. Despite our attempts to encourage discussion on these conditionalities, your administration has been vehemently opposed to such dialogue.
Moreover, the conditions that we put forward are not unreasonable. We have asked, and continue to reiterate that this settlement arrangement be done under the following terms and conditions:
- It covers terminal benefits (computed severance payments, outstanding vacation payments, outstanding wage and salary payments to affected employees, etc.)
- The upfront cash component is the only reasonable and logical way to go under the current circumstances and situations of the employees, and should be given effect almost immediately
- The compassionate offer should not and indeed does not represent the final and full claim of severance payments and other legitimate and legally-entitled terminal benefits of the employees. It is considered an interim partial payment of the employee’s entitlements.
These, along with a few other conditions outlined in the correspondence are not overly contentious matters. Again, in a follow-up correspondence on June 15, 2021, we pleaded for dialogue.
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“We, therefore, cannot agree and will not accept that the differences between the Government’s position and that of the Unions are so significant that they are irreconcilable and therefore would give the Government the leeway to either opt-out or to impose its will on individual employees of LIAT.”
Mr. Prime Minister, the ABWU as the legal bargaining representative for the LIAT employees cannot in any good conscience encourage the workers to accept the 50% compassionate offer in its current configuration.
To date, the employees and the Unions have done all they could to advance this process to a fair and reasonable resolution. We have put forward our positions as a collective body within the sub-region to make it as simple as possible for the shareholder Governments to also take a collective approach on this matter. However, PM Browne, you have failed – though not surprisingly – to mobilize your colleague Prime Ministers to meet with the workers’ representatives.
While we understand that the Government of Antigua & Barbuda does not see itself as solely responsible for the workers’ severance, it is the Antigua and Barbuda Government that has voluntarily taken the lead on this matter, and by default would have accepted the associated responsibility of settling severance and other terminal benefits.
As LIAT employees continue to suffer and cry out for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda as lead shareholder of LIAT, to live up to its moral and legal obligations, the ABWU remains relentless in its pursuit for justice and meaningful dialogue on the matter of the employee’s terminal benefits.
Again, Mr. Prime Minister, on behalf of the 600-plus former employees of LIAT 1794 Ltd. we impress upon you to do the mature and responsible thing and commence dialogue with the Union in earnest.