Scores of employees of regional airline LIAT say they fear there are plans afoot for mass termination at the airline, and that they are the target of proposed changes to the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code.
LIAT employees have been contacting 268 TODAY after it was announced at Wednesday’s post Cabinet news conference that the Antigua and Barbuda Parliament will, at its next meeting, consider suspending laws, which require employers pay gratuity and severance when sending home workers.
The LIAT employees, who spoke with 268 TODAY on condition of anonymity, said they believe this move is specifically targeted at them.
Many of the workers fear they will be terminated by this summer.
Airlines around the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with thousands of their employees being put on the breadline.
On May 15 Air Canada announced plans to lay off at least 20,000 employees as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the airline industry.
Effective June 7, the layoffs will affect more than half of the company’s 38,000 employees, the airline said.
LIAT employees are concerned that the company’s highly-paid executive managers remain in their jobs and continue to earn huge salaries, even as they plan to send home workers without gratuity or severance payments.
268 TODAY understands that a recommendation to amend the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code – to include a definition of the term furlough in section C3, and to insert the temporary suspension of some provisions of the Code – has been rejected.
This rejection follows a May 26 meeting between the Hotel and Tourism Association, Attorney General and Minister of Public Safety and Labour Steadroy Cutie Benjamin, and representatives of the Government, employers and employee organizations.
A number of recommendations were presented for consideration. But as an alternative to the furlough and suspension matters, Benjamin indicated that he intends to lay before the Parliament “a Bill to cover all regular provisions of the law, which will be applicable to all employment situations in Antigua and Barbuda during a State of Public Emergency.”
Following Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said employers are finding it extremely burdensome, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, to pay gratuity and severance to employees being laid off at this time.
“There are certain provisions, and if I’m to quote the Attorney General and the Minister of Labour, there was a discussion yesterday among the tripartite interests governing labour laws,” Nicholas said during the post Cabinet press conference.
“As a result of the disruption caused by COVID, many businesses found themselves to be in a situation where they would have had to temporarily lay off their workers. Ordinarily, the conditions that would have affected employees — a period over 90 days — where an employer would be in normal circumstances be obliged to law off an employee over that period of time, a level of gratuity comes into play or severance comes into play.
“I think those conditions will prove to be extraordinarily onerous. The constitution provides for under the circumstances where we are operating within a state of emergency, that there can be certain suspension of certain conditions, and I believe that these are measures that have to be looked at. The consultation started and I believe that that is what is going to be presented to the parliament.”