By Barbados TODAY
More than 90 Barbados-based LIAT employees were formally terminated from the cash-starved airline today.
The workers, including pilots, engineers, flight attendants and ground staff, were among hundreds of staffers of the Antigua-based company who received their letters from court-approved administrator Cleveland Seaforth, who is overseeing the restructuring of the collapsed airline.
The employees had been on temporary layoff ever since the airline shut down operations in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought air travel to a halt.
After hearing an application by Seaforth, which he filed on September 18 seeking permission to formally send home all the staff, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in Antigua issued an order authorising him to terminate the contracts of 564 who had been laid off and to retain 103 required for the continued operations of LIAT.
The court also authorised the administrator to terminate the debtor’s seven aircraft lease agreements.
Today, in his correspondence dated October 22, 2020, the administrator told the workers they had been made redundant.
According to one termination letter, Seaforth wrote: “Further to our correspondences to you in respect of your temporary layoff, we now write to advise you of the Administrator’s decision that effective October 22, 2020, your employment as a [position identified] with LIAT (1974) Ltd has been made redundant.”
He reminded the employees that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major downturn in the economy and has had a detrimental impact on LIAT’s business.
“Indeed, prior to my appointment, it compelled LIAT (1974) Ltd. to place a large number of employees on temporary layoff since the business has not been actively engaged in routine commercial flying except for repatriation flights. This was also as a result of the uncertainty and general health concerns surrounding airline travel created by the COVID-19 pandemic and restricted travel throughout the region due to the closure of borders,” the letter continued.
“As LIAT (1974) Ltd has been forced to shut down its regional operations for an indefinite period in response to this pandemic, we have no choice but to further reduce staffing levels. Given these factors, we have unfortunately been left with no alternative than the present action, since the work which you were employed to perform has ceased or has substantially diminished.”
Seaforth assured employees that the company recognises its obligation as they relate to severance entitlements, vacation pay, retroactive pay and any outstanding salaries.
“All applicable entitlements will be advised to your respective bargaining agent for discussion, resolution, and finalisation prior to you being notified of amounts due to you,” he stated.
However, the workers were informed by the administrator that they should not expect any outstanding payments any time soon.
“In view of the company’s current state of insolvency, the payment of any indebtedness to you cannot be made at this time and is dependent upon the outcome of the court-supervised restructuring process. Every effort will be made to secure the best outcome in respect of the indebtedness to all employees in accordance with the legal and contractual requirements.”
Seaforth went on to address the issue of pension.
“Any outstanding balance due to you from the company’s Pension Escrow Account will be paid by the Administrator as soon as individual pension statements have been received from the Eckler Partners. This process is expected to be completed shortly,” he informed.
The letter of termination also said that any liability to certain staff arising from their contributions which were paid into CLICO will be quantified and included in his reports to the court as an outstanding liability.
Seaforth thanked staff, on behalf of the LIAT management, for the valuable contribution they made to the company during their tenure.
He also expressed “profound” appreciation for their understanding and support during this unprecedented time and expressed hope that they and their families remain safe and healthy.
However, President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall, whose organisation represents the Barbadian pilots, has expressed concern about the status of severance for the local staff.
“Of course the concern for the union is the severance payments that are supposed to be made to the Barbadian pilots. We would have asked for a meeting with LIAT to resolve the whole issue of severance payment. The pilots would have expressed their difficulty with the company closing since March because they have not received any form of income since March this year,” McDowall said.
The trade union leader noted that the pilots have been having financial difficulties as a result, especially with regards to meeting their daily living expenses.
“We want to know when those payments are going to be made. The union has thrown its support behind the Barbadian LIAT staff, especially the Barbadian LIAT pilots. We are also throwing our support behind all of those workers who have been impacted by the closure of LIAT and we will do whatever we can to ensure that those workers get what is rightfully theirs. When I speak of what is rightfully theirs, I include the issue of severance payment,” he stated.
Meanwhile, one of the dismissed workers is questioning plans by LIAT to resume flying from November 1 to coincide with Independence Day celebrations in Antigua.
“You just terminated all of those workers and now you talking about a November 1st flight?” the employee asked.
The worker is worried that all the Barbadian pilots have been sent home and only 11 of their Antiguan counterparts will be re-employed.
Neither president of the Leeward Islands Pilots Association (LIALPA) Patterson Thompson nor any of the top brass of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) which represents other local staff could be reached for comment