Home Local News Browne rubbishes ABWU claims, says gov’t stepped in to provide relief to JBR staff

Browne rubbishes ABWU claims, says gov’t stepped in to provide relief to JBR staff

by Pointe Xpress
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Following this week’s showdown between the Antigua Barbuda Workers’ Union and the government over the release of EC$12.9 million in severance and other payments due to former Jolly Beach Resort staff, Prime Minister Browne is suggesting that the outstanding severance issue is being politicised to mislead the public.

In an appearance on Pointe FM on Tuesday, the prime minister provided context to the Jolly Beach Resort saga and explained that his government only interceded to protect the workers who would have been left empty handed after the hotel went belly up under its previous owners.

Browne said while his administration had no financial obligation to the workers after the company flopped, it could not stand idly by and watch hundreds of people put on the breadline.

“Jolly Beach hotel was privately owned. The company ended up in financial difficulties and they ended up owing the former employees $12.9 million comprising severance as well as outstanding thrift fund payment which were unlawfully utilised by the previous management of Jolly Beach.

“So, the government had no liability whatsoever to the staff, not zero. However, recognising the difficulties that the staff were experiencing, we decided to step in and to buy the property and then to subsequently resell a portion of it, which we have succeeded in doing,” Prime Minister Browne told Talk Your Mind host, Troy Allen.

“The transaction concluded just about a month ago and as a consequence, 12.9 million of the proceeds were deposited into an account and the proceeds have been held in escrow for approximately three weeks. The attorney is Kenny Kentish of Lake & Kentish,” he continued.

Browne’s explanation followed assertions made on Monday by the Deputy Secretary General of the ABWU, Chester Hughes that the prime minister had been dishonest over the disbursement of money for the payment of Jolly Beach’s former employees.

“Our recent conversation with attorneys representing the company informed us that the funds were

received by them early last week. Further, they were waiting on documents to be sent from the Survey Department, which they should receive today [Monday]. Therefore, when they receive those documents, they would be in touch with us to have the matter expedited,” Hughes said in a statement released by the ABWU.

The government responded less than 24 hours later in a statement that accused the union of “spreading untruthful and incredibly inaccurate claims regarding the payments to be made to former workers of the Jolly Beach Hotel”.

In his conversation with Allen, Prime Minister Browne said that it fulfilled the obligation to the workers, which was assumed when it purchased the failed hotel, once the money was turned over into the escrow account and care of Lake & Kentish.

“We would have discharged of those undertakings by placing $12.9 million in the escrow account of Lake & Kentish.

“So, as it stands now, we have no obligation to anyone, to the union, the staff. We have fully discharged of those responsibilities,” said Browne.

He further noted that the ABWU will also benefit from the settlement for their role in representing the workers through the long negotiations.

“In fact, there is also a sizable…amount paid to the union…to cover their outstanding fees over the years, the unpaid fees.

“So, what is required now is for the union to cooperate with the escrow agent to ensure that payments are made on a timely basis.”

The prime minister further accused the union of attempting to frustrate the payment process for the out-of-pocket workers and mislead them concerning the situation’s progress.

“What they’re seeking to do, obviously, is to frustrate the payment, to frustrate the employees and they would have given he employees the wrongful impression that it is the government that is holding up the process when we have discharged our responsibility in full.”

This deliberate deception on the part of the union, Browne said, has caused the misled workers to stage pickets outside the Office of the Prime Minister when all parties who were a part of the negotiations of the settlement are aware that the matter has been resolved.

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