(Barbados Today) – Another 103 employees of the collapsed regional airline LIAT are to be terminated, joining close to 600 already on the breadline following the demise of the carrier.
This has been revealed by Cleveland Seaforth, the Antigua and Barbuda court-approved Administrator of the company in a letter dated January 22, 2021 and addressed to Prime Minister Mia Mottley and eight other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government in which he warned the CARICOM counterparts that they could be exposed legally unless some effort was made to pay the affected workers.
However, Prime Minister Mottley told Barbados TODAY tonight she had not yet seen the letter and would not comment until she had seen it.
In that letter – a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY – Seaforth even placed Mottley and the other Heads on notice of possible legal action that could be taken against them with regards to their financial obligations to the LIAT employees.
Seaforth, who is charged with administering the affairs of the company during its current restructuring process urged Mottley to assist in paying the EC$79 million in severance owed to the 564 workers already put on the breadline.
“To date, 564 employees have been terminated and as the restructuring process is completed, the remaining 103 employees will also be terminated,” the administrator told the regional leaders including Antigua and Barbuda’s Gaston Browne, Trinidad and Tobago’s Dr Keith Rowley, Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit.
He disclosed that as at April 30, 2020, the total unpaid entitlements to employees across the region amounted to EC$119,006, 962.
“Of this amount, EC$79,011,337 is in respect of the employees’ legal severance entitlements,” the letter stated.
Seaforth, whose letter also went to Guyana’s President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, St Kitts and Nevis’ leader Dr Timothy Harris and his St Lucian counterpart Allen Chastenet, said that based on preliminary estimates, it is highly unlikely that any significant portion of the employees’ severance would potentially come from the sale of the LIAT estate upon eventual liquidation.
“Against the backdrop as noted above, the purpose of my letter is to make an appeal to the respective governments for consideration to be given to the payment of employees’ severance entitlements of approximately EC$79 million,” the LIAT administrator wrote.
The airline official then sought to make out a “strong” case for the hundreds of “suffering” workers from Barbados and other Caribbean territories to be paid their outstanding monies without further delay.
Seaforth termed as most unfortunate the fact that the workers were unlikely to receive any meaningful compensation from the sale of the LIAT estate.
“It is most unfortunate, as over the years, notwithstanding the continued financial ill-health of the company, the employees committed themselves and continued to provide service to the company,” the court-sanctioned official declared.
He contended that the staff continued to serve the airline in spite of those circumstances because they firmly believed they would not have experienced any hardship since LIAT was owned by regional governments.
“There was the expectation that the company would never be abandoned by the respective governments,” Seaforth argued.
“Despite the known insolvent position of the company, the employees relied on the undertaking of the respective governments’ Letters of Comfort to the company’s auditor to provide financial support for the continued operations of the company.”
He continued: “The letters of support as issued by the respective governments do [sic] in fact create a litigation exposure for the governments.”
The administrator also told the Barbados Prime Minister and her regional counterparts that the employees saw themselves as working for a state-owned entity which was engaged in fostering Caribbean integration and as such, the notion of them being quasi-government civil servants, was foremost in their minds.
He said that based on his discussions with the unions in the various territories, it was “clearly” evident that both the current and former employees are experiencing severe financial hardship and a high level of disappointment and disillusionment in what is perceived as a lack of support from the respective governments.
He lamented that their situation was made even worse by the impact of COVID-19 because of the inability of workers to find alternative sources of employment due to the economic downturn.
Seaforth said that apart from any possible severance which may come from the LIAT estate, the Antigua and Barbuda Government has indicated it is prepared to offer the staff up to a maximum of 50 per cent of their severance either by cash, land or government bonds or a combination of the three.
“Against the initiative being contemplated by the Antigua and Barbuda government, I write to inquire if such an approach can be considered by other governments within the region and whether each government would be prepared to engage in dialogue on this matter with the government of Antigua and Barbuda,” he asked.
He welcomed the opportunity to further discuss the issue with the governments as a group or individually in an effort to chart a way forward for the employees to receive “some form of compensation” for their legal severance entitlement.
Seaforth informed the CARICOM leaders he had copied the letter to Secretary General of CARICOM Ambassador Irwin LaRocque with the expectation that a regional approach could be pursued in this matter, if considered appropriate. He said he is hoping a meeting could be convened to thrash out this issue.