ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – Antigua-based workers with the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, have until Friday to agree to proposals by the government as it moves to prevent the liquidation of the company by its major shareholder governments.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is opposed to liquidating the airline, Tuesday held talks with representatives of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), but the union’s general secretary, David Massiah, would not divulge the details of the deliberations.
Browne is seeking support for his idea for the formation of a new company, LIAT 2020, should the governments of Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenada go ahead with their plans to liquidate LIAT (1974) Limited that owes millions of dollars to its creditors.
LIAT employs hundreds of workers here and Massiah said the union also met with the workers behind closed doors on Tuesday.
He told the state-owned ABS radio and television that he would not wish to divulge the details of the discussions since the airline’s operations are diverse and involve various departments across the region.
He said the ABWU needs to involve all stakeholders in their consultation process before any firm decision can be made on the options outlined by Prime Minister Browne during the meeting.
But Prime Minister Browne, while he has not publicly indicated what had been discussed on Tuesday, posted on his Facebook page, a report quoting his Chief of Staff, Max Hurst, indicating that LIAT workers have been asked to agree to a 50 per cent cut in severance payments.
Hurst is quoted as saying that while a 30 per cent cut was proposed, Prime Minister Browne indicated that this may not be sufficient and that the government is proposing in a 50 per cent cut.
Hurst said that if the union agrees to this proposal, staff will also benefit from shares in LIAT and that any proposal would need to be taken to the shareholder governments as an alternative to liquidating the airline.
The report noted that suggestions for duty waivers, entrepreneurship funding, land leasing for agricultural purposes among others have also been placed on the table and that Browne also discussed his plans for the regional carrier.
Prime Minister Browne has said previously that his administration had already earmarked EC$20 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) towards the capitalisation of the new airline.
Browne said he has written to the Prime Ministers Mia Mottley of Barbados and Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, asking them to attend a final meeting to discuss his proposals for reorganizing LIAT.
“So, in a last-ditch effort, I have requested a meeting for next Monday, which I believe I will get, to look at the possible reorganizational plan. We should have that plan completed by Friday,” he said.