Cabinet shuts down future engagement with ABWU; says all shareholder governments must be part of negotiations

The Gaston Browne Administration has doubled down on its promise not to further engage the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU), the bargaining agent of the former LIAT (1974) Ltd. Workers, and is indicating that future negotiations will take place with all the shareholders.

The Executive took this decision at its  meeting of Wednesday, March 22, when the future prospects of the airline were discussed.  

Antigua and Barbuda’s position is that any negotiations for payment to LIAT staff shall now involve all the shareholder governments, this week’s Cabinet Notes report.

The Executive says it is no longer prepared to conduct bilateral negotiations with the LIAT bargaining agent in Antigua.

Reportedly the old LIAT (1974) Ltd. has been virtually collapsed, and its other creditors are also owed money.

However, the Administration says the regional carrier is without assets to satisfy the debts owed; therefore, the governments who owned the airline would be liable to the extent of their shareholding, since LIAT is a limited liability company.

Antigua and Barbuda’s share was 32 percent; Barbados’ share was 54 percent; and Dominica and St. Vincent & The Grenadines owned nearly 10 percent together.

Prime Minister Browne is adamant that the 50 percent compassionate offer that his Government made to the former workers is justifiable. However, the Cabinet says it has been rejected by the bargaining agent, whose leaders are insisting on 100 percent payment.

On the contrary, David Massiah, general secretary of the ABWU, says the Union is willing to accept the 50 percent offer; however, it has also made some counter proposals to ensure the former workers do not lose their full entitlement.  

The Cabinet has now reinforced its decision to engage all former shareholder governments, some of whom have already made a commitment to pay their workers their severance.

St. Lucia, which is not a shareholder, has undertaken to pay its former LIAT workers their entitlements, while Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley recently announced  that her government will pay up to $75,000 to each worker, with any balance being given in bonds.

However, the Cabinet says that Barbados’ maximum amounts to only a 10 percent payment – and not a 54 percent imbursement to match its ownership share.

According to the Administration, on the other hand, Antigua and Barbuda’s 50 percent promise exceeds its 32 percent shareholding in LIAT.

Additionally, it was noted that Antigua and Barbuda has ensured that the airline continues to operate on a daily basis in spite of challenges.

At present, one of its three-aircraft-fleet is grounded until nearly US$3 million is spent to bring it back into airworthy status, which the Cabinet has agreed will be done.