Massiah calls on PM Browne, again, for dialogue on conditions for acceptance of ‘compassionate’ offer to ex-LIAT staff

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU), the bargaining agent representing the former workers of LIAT (1974) Ltd., is taking issue with recent statements made by Prime Minister Gaston Browne regarding the ex-employees’ severance payments.

Severance has been outstanding since the airline initially closed operations in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Browne has been offering 50 percent of what is owed to them in severance and other benefits – deeming it a “compassionate” payment. He recently accused the workers and their Union of being inflexible for failing to accept and settle this matter.

ABWU General-Secretary David Massiah says that Prime Minister Browne continues to show scant regard for the unions, seeking only to bully them and the workers into taking what he wants to give and what he thinks their severance payments should be.

Massiah says the workers’ bargaining agents comprise a team of experienced and competent professionals who have a long track record of successful negotiations.  And he describes the former LIAT workers as hardworking, intelligent and talented individuals who understand their value.

Accordingly, he says, Browne’s unrelenting attempts to force both parties into acceptance can only be described as uncompassionate – especially in the face of the workers’ ongoing struggles.

The general-secretary says the unions have been pleading with the Government for dialogue to ensure the workers receive what is legally owed to them in a timely manner.

In contrast, Massiah says, the former workers have been extraordinarily flexible with the shareholder governments on this matter.

He is reminding PM Browne that it was the workers who agreed, in principle, to his suggestion of a “haircut” on their entitlements in order to save the airline.  However, he says, Browne has since taken a unilateral approach on how their terminal benefits are configured.

Massiah recalls that, over a year ago, by way of a letter addressed to the court-appointed administrator, the Union agreed to accept the 50 percent compassionate offer – with some stipulations.  However, he says, the Browne Administration has been fervently opposed to discussing these.

The Union has also suggested, among others, that the compassionate offer should not – and does not – represent the final and full claim of severance payments and other legitimate and legally entitled terminal benefits.

Rather, the ABWU believes this should be considered an interim, partial payment of the employees’ entitlements.

As the legal bargaining representative for the LIAT workers, the Workers’ Union cannot – in any good conscience – encourage them to accept the 50 percent compassionate offer in its current configuration, Massiah states.

He says the Union’s proposals are not overly contentious, adding that – by way of follow-up correspondence on June 15, 2021 – it pleaded for dialogue with the Government.

Therefore, on behalf of the over-600 former employees of LIAT, the Union is impressing on Prime Minister Browne that he should do the mature and responsible thing by commencing the discussion the Union seeks.