Barbados’ tourism minister, Lisa Cummins, caused a major regional stir last week when the laid blame at the feet of the Gaston Browne administration for LIAT’s former employees being unable to claim severance.
In a media appearance last week, the former Barbados Minister of Tourism and International Transport said an “unfortunate” change in legislation in Antigua and Barbuda was solely responsible for the plight of over 500 now unemployed LIAT staff.
“We are committed as a government to labour practices. Where severance is due, people should be paid their severance by the companies that owe them the severance. It is unfortunate that the legislation was changed in Antigua that made changes that then created a bit of a challenge for the employees of LIAT to be able to get their monies if there were any future difficulties with the company. That we saw as something that was unfortunate,” Cummins said.
On Sunday however, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Cummins’ assertions were a failed attempt at “sophistry and subterfuge”.
According to Browne, Cummins’ statements did not reflect with honesty the circumstances which led to the difficult decisions which have been taken in order to save the regional airline which would have failed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic had it not been of the intervention of Antigua and Barbuda.
While LIAT’s former staff will likely lose their full severance and other payments and benefits to which they may have been entitled before the collapse of the company, last week, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Lennox Weston, announced that the government would make a ‘compassionate payment’ amounting to 50 percent of the severance due to local LIAT staff. This payment would take the form of cash, scholarships, land and bonds or a combination of the options offered.
The Antigua and Barbuda leader also suggested that Cummins’ position was hypocritical as, while the Barbados government has offered some relief to former LIAT staff, it pales in comparison to the efforts undertaken by his administration.
“The issue with Lisa Cummins, I would say it’s a failed attempt at sophistry, subterfuge. She misspoke.
“Yesterday (Saturday) though, she was back on Observer and she was asked a specific question as to whether or not the Barbados government will offer a compassionate severance pay to displaced LIAT workers commensurate with its shareholding, which incidentally is about 52 percent.
“Barbados had gone ahead and gotten the votes of Trinidad and Tobago transferred to it so it could have the majority in order to collapse LIAT, and we had to amend the laws here to prevent the liquidation of LIAT. But that does not in any way stop Barbados, St. Vincent, Dominica [from making a] compassionate payment to the displaced workers of LIAT,” said Prime Minister Browne.
He continued: “When she (Cummins) was asked yesterday (Saturday) directly whether they will provide that type of settlement, she declined to answer and suggested that maybe the new minister will be better able to address that question.”
To date, the Mia Mottley-led Barbados government has only moved to offer former LIAT workers based there a one-off gift of $2,000 along with a monthly advance of another $2,000 that must be repaid once a severance settlement is arrived at.
LIAT’s former employees across the region are claiming more than USD $120 million in severance payments.
Cummins’ comments were made ahead of Barbados’ elections on the 19th, so it is not yet known if she will return as a member of the Mia Mottley cabinet, and if so, to which portfolio.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has reiterated his previous position that some of LIAT’s former employees, and trade unions the region over, are seeking to make his administration the villain when in his view, his government’s actions have proven that it is anything but that.
Browne asserted that his government remains an ally of all LIAT’s former staff and suggested that many have them may have lost focus on the bigger picture.
“I find that the LIAT workers, some of them, and even some of the unions within the region, they seem to be ill-focused.
“The Antiguan government is a natural ally to support their cause to make sure that the other governments give them something. [But] instead of working with us to bring the other governments to the table, they are literally trying to fight us [on] what I consider to be a very generous settlement that we have offered.”
Recently, the president of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), Patterson Thompson declared neither Barbados’ offer of a $2,000 per month advance for Barbados-based LIAT staff of the compassionate severance package deal of Prime Minister Browne goes far enough to resolve the increasingly desperate situation in which ex-LIAT employees now find themselves.