Prime Minister Gaston Browne, appearing on the inaugural edition of “Observer PM” on Monday evening, told radio listeners that while he is aware that St. John’s does not have the “shareholder capacity” to have the airline maintain its base here, it is still engaged in a fight to have it remain here.
“They are literally pulling, and have pulled to some extent, the rug from under our feet over the years and we are not looking to resist any such further move,” Prime Minister Browne told radio listeners.
Last month, Browne wrote to the chairman of the shareholder governments of the regional airline, urging a temporary halt on plans for a voluntary separation package (VSEP) that could result in more than 150 employees being removed from the company’s payroll.
In his letter to St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister said he was also urging that no further action be taken until his administration discusses the matter.
Gonsalves said that the plans were to reduce the airlines debt significantly. He said it would involve reducing the staff number from 800 to about 620, “which should save us about EC$13 million (One EC Dollar=US$0.37 cents) per year.
Apart from Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the other shareholders of the airline are Barbados and Dominica.
While the governments have agreed to the shift, they also said that Antigua remains an important gateway for LIAT.
In his plea for LIAT to remain in Antigua, Browne said he was urging his fellow shareholder governments to consider that “all we export from this country is LIAT.
“We buy flour from St Vincent; we buy juices from Barbados; vegetables from Dominica and all I am saying to them, leave us with LIAT,” adding “we have every right to defend what’s in the best interest of Antigua and Barbuda.
“As you know, they’re seeking to redeploy assets to Barbados. You can be assured that if those assets move, then you can’t justify having the maintenance base here, and if the maintenance base moves, then you cannot justify the head quarters.”
Regarding the planned retrenchment, Prime Minister Browne said the company should consider the least painful option.
“Now with St Vincent going into an election this year, if LIAT is going to retrench (do) you think the Prime Minister of St Vincent is going to want to let go anybody in St Vincent? Barbados has the majority shares; they say they want more business. (Do) you think they’re going to allow anybody from (Barbados) to go? At the end of the day it is Antigua and Barbuda that will be affected,” Browne asked listeners.
He reiterated his view that the move would have negative impact on the local economy and appealed to workers “to start to put their business in order because I guarantee you, it will be a total meltdown and destruction of LIAT.”