(BARBADOS TODAY) – Barbadian pilots for the collapsed regional airline, LIAT, said on Tuesday that the plan to save the company from liquidation does not address their dire financial plight in which some are now on the brink of eviction from their homes.
The bleak picture was painted by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which represents the Barbadian commercial flyers.
An agreement reached last night by the four shareholder governments – Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda – to sell the three planes owned by LIAT and charged to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) was part of the plan proposed by St John’s to reorganize the airline.
Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the sale of the aircraft would wipe out the debt for those planes.
But Browne is also sticking to his guns that severance payments should be slashed by half and the amounts due to other creditors be cut as the only way for the reorganization to work.
But a Barbadian LIAT pilot, who declined to be named, told Barbados TODAY that he and his colleagues are not only worried about a plan that does not offer any financial solutions to their desperate situation but the state of mind that could exist if called upon to fly the planes again in an unsettled environment.
He said: “Not only that you have had to deal with COVID, had to deal with the layoffs which so many people have, but the fact is, you are not getting your due entitlements including what was due from March; you are not getting severance, you are not getting notice of pay, you have gotten nothing.
“The next thing is that at the end of the day when all is said and done, these people that are suffering – aviation is a very serious business that requires a lot of focus – so, at the end of the day when people go through all of this, you still talking about putting these people back in airplanes, at the tail-end of a hurricane season, in this kind of mindset?”
He described as a very serious and terrible situation the idea of putting the lives of people in the hands of pilots who have been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, cannot put food on their tables, pay their bills or get a cent of what is due to them.
The pilot also expressed concern that some of his colleagues have reported being on the brink of eviction from their homes.
He said: “We have young pilots that are the sole breadwinners that are essentially… on the verge of losing their homes and cannot buy basic things. So it is very, very concerning and is getting to a critical point for many of the pilots because it has been literally four months without one penny coming in from anywhere, and LIAT owes us a lot of money.”
Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Delcia Burke also told Barbados TODAY of reports from members who are about to be thrown out of their homes.
“I also have had information that some of our pilots in Barbados, the ones who have been renting, have been threatened with eviction. In all of this, nobody is paying the pilots any mind,” Burke said.
The NUPW leader also condemned the proposal to cut the pilots’ pay by 50 per cent as part of the plan, suggesting that such a figure was way too much.
Burke noted that the Grenada Government had announced its intention to give its LIAT staff some form of remuneration even though they were working under the airline legislation. However, she said, the union has not heard anything like this from the Barbados Government.
“I think that each government should pay the persons from their jurisdiction and I think 50 per cent is way too much to be cutting anybody’s salary,” the NUPW Acting General Secretary argued.
Burke said while the reorganization plan called for the sale of LIAT planes to pay off debt, nothing is mentioned about the pilots.
Barbadian pilot Patterson Thompson, president of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), which represents LIAT pilots, told Barbados TODAY the details of the plan are too sketchy at the moment and he would have to find out much more in order to make an informed comment.
“The three governments had an understanding among themselves and I don’t know enough to say that I have anything really to say about it, because we now have to put some flesh on these bones and see how it affects us,” said Thompson.
Explaining the agreement, Browne explained: “What that will do, that will help to literally eliminate the debt from LIAT’s books for those planes, and, in addition, the proceeds will be utilized to pay down the loan, even though there would be a residual value. The governments will continue to make payment on the residual value after the proceeds of the planes are applied to the loans at the Caribbean Development Bank,”.
The plan could also see LIAT flying again within 60 days to 90 days, he said.
Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines also agreed to transfer their shares to Antigua and Barbuda for $1 each.
He described the move by Prime Ministers Mia Mottley of Barbados and Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines as a responsible proposition in that the aggregate shares which would be transferred to St John’s would be about 60 per cent between the two governments.
Speaking for his colleagues, the Barbadian pilot said: “The fellows here feel our Prime Minister will do the right thing as a shareholder, but the other ones we are not too sure about.”