Antigua PM willing to negotiate directly with former LIAT workers

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

CMC-Prime Minister Gaston Browne says his administration is prepared to negotiate directly with the former employees of the regional airline, LIAT (1974) Limited that went bankrupt earlier this year. 

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) has been calling on the government, which had been a major shareholder in the airline, to negotiate an amicable settlement, but the government has accused the union of not wanting to negotiate in good faith. 

Speaking at the ceremony on Tuesday evening for the arrival of two E-145 jet aircraft that will form part of the new Antigua-based airline, LIAT 2020 Limited, Browne said that the door remains open for direct negotiations with the workers regarding the severance payments. 

The government had originally offered a 50 per cent compassion payment in cash and bonds to the former employees that Browne said amounts to EC$110 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents). The ABWU had said in the past that it would continue to seek the 100 per cent severance payment to the former airline employees. 

“We know the issue of severance remains an issue and whereas my administration has no legal obligation to pay severance, I say to the displaced workers of LIAT and even those who are still employed with LIAT that my administration is committed to covering the 32 per cent,…representing the shareholding my government had in LIAT at the time.” 

Apart from Antigua and Barbuda, the other shareholders were Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Most of these islands have reached agreement with their former LIAT workers on severance payments. 

Browne, who has since left Antigua for Venezuela to attend the XXIII ALBA-TCP Summit in Venezuela, said that “whereas the union has been an impediment my administration is now prepared to negotiate directly with the LIAT staff and to put a mechanism in place to make sure that 32 per cent is paid to you. 

“However, it will require the maturity of the staff to look beyond the partisan politics of the union and to negotiate directly with our government so that we can make those funds available to you in whatever combination, cash, bonds and land. 

“So I reiterate that the offer still stands and I encourage existing staff and former staff of LIAT to take up the offer,” Browne said. 

The two jet aircraft arrived minutes apart with the new company logo, LIAT 20, and  were greeted with a water cannon salute provided by the Fire Department along with cheers from those gathered. 

Browne told the ceremony that it was in 2020 during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that his government had the vision to register the company LIAT 202. 

“No one would have expected that a small island state, one of the most vulnerable countries that had endured a most devastating impact from COVID-19 in 2020, would have the courage to planwere not on board for the new ride. 

He said the regional leaders wanted to bury LIAT (1974) Ltd, even as he saw the COVID-19 pandemic providing an opportunity to  ‘right-size’ the airline. 

The new airline will replace LIAT (1974) Limited that was first established in Montserrat in 1956 but folded in January following increased debt and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The LIAT 2020 airline is being formed in partnership with Air Peace, a private Nigerian airline founded in 2013 and earlier this year Browne had said that Air Peace would be putting in close to US$65 million, while the government is investing US$20 million. 

Prime Minister Browne told the ceremony that St John’s investment could be higher. 

“At the time if you had asked me where we would have gotten 20 million US dollars as a nation to invest in the establishment of LIAT 2020, I don’t believe I would have had a precise answer, I probably would have said to you at the time God will provide. 

“But today, we are in a position in which the government of Antigua and Barbuda has already placed US$12.1 million in escrow for the purchase of three ATRs and we will also make available another US$10 million to repair the three aircraft to ensure that they are air worthy. 

“So in essence, we are committed to spending in excess of US$20 million to make LIAT 2020 a resounding success,” Browne told the ceremony. 

Two more aircraft will arrive over the coming months, to include a 120-seater jet and the enw airline has already completed demo flights under the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, while awaiting its air operators certificate (AOC) by next week. 

Meanwhile, the representative for Air Peace Caribbean, Hafsah Absulsalam, said the first order of business is to acquire the AOC to ensure the launch. 

“Within weeks we are hoping to launch the airline. We will be hitting the road with our marketing campaign to tell you what our services are about. Naturally, the islands where we take our demonstration flights will be the first to be added to our schedule. With that in mind we are getting our operational readiness in place to ensure us able to begin operations,” she said. 





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