Browne’s offer to LIAT staff expires Friday

LIAT’s Antigua-based workers have been given until Friday to agree to prime minister Gaston Browne’s proposals to save the airline from liquidation by its shareholder governments.

But the proposals range from slashing worker’s pay by between one-third to a half and a slew of inducements, including tax waivers, business start-up cash and farmland, according to a senior government official

Browne on Tuesday held talks with the Opposition-aligned Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), but the union’s general secretary, David Massiah, would not divulge the details of the deliberations.

The Antigua leader 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 in St John’s. Massiah said the union also met with the workers behind closed doors on Tuesday.

He did divulge details of the talks to state radio and television, saying the airline’s operations are diverse and involve various departments across the region.

The ABWU, he said, needs to involve all players in the consultation before any firm decision can be made on the Antigua government’s options.

But while he has not publicly indicated what had been discussed on Tuesday, Browne posted on his Facebook page a report quoting his Chief of Staff Max Hurst as 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 pay cut was proposed, the prime minister had indicated that this may not be enough and that the government had proposed slashing pay by half.

Hurst said that if the union agrees to this proposal, staff would be offered shares in the cash-strapped carrier and that any proposal would need to be taken to the shareholder governments as an alternative to liquidation.

The report noted that offers of import duty waivers, entrepreneurship financing and land leasing for farming have also been placed on the table and that Browne also discussed his plans for the regional carrier’s future.

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 prime ministers Mottley 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 re-organizational plan,” he said. “We should have that plan completed by Friday.” (BT/CMC)