Gonsalves hails LIAT rescue ‘success’

By Colville Mounsey, Barbados Today

A financial rescue for cash-strapped regional carrier LIAT appears on the horizon – along with plans for yet another restructuring – following marathon talks at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, which ended just minutes before midnight on Monday.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY immediately after the meeting, chairman of the majority shareholding governments of LIAT, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, gave the impression that the shareholders were close to securing buy-in from the airline’s unions, even though it would call for some sacrifice on their part.

The Vincentian prime minister said: “Our meeting lasted over four hours with the union leaders, the management, the shareholders and other officials and I think we made progress and we ended the meeting all holding hands and singing ‘Bind us together, Lord”.

“I think everybody is binding to an amended restructuring plan where there is burden sharing and the employees are prepared to bear some burdens.”

Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Antiguan prime minister Gaston Browne, representing two of the four majority shareholders, attended the talks.

The workers were represented by the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots’ Association (LIALPA) and the Barbados Workers’ Union, whose representatives declined to comment until they first reported to their members.

But according to Dr Gonsalves, the extent to which workers would be expected to sacrifice is still to be determined.

He said: “The extent of what is to be borne we will know in a couple of days when they [the unions] talk to their members, but we had a very positive response,” he said.

The LIAT chairman also categorically dismissed as false, social media reports of plans to replace LIAT Chief Executive Officer Julie Reifer Jones. “I have not heard of anything. I am the chairman and if that were even on the cards somebody will tell me,” he stressed.

The Barbados meeting comes as Caribbean countries are being asked to contribute a total of $10.8 million (US$5.4 million) in emergency funding needed to keep the airline in the sky. At the same time, 11 destinations have been given until Friday, March 15, to respond to the airline’s minimal revenue guarantee (MRG) proposals.

Gonsalves said that countries, including the four major shareholders – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – along with Grenada, have agreed to contribute to the emergency fund.

Barbados, which has the 116 weekly departures, the highest by LIAT, is being asked to contribute $3.2 million (US$1.614 million), while Antigua and Barbuda, with 69 weekly departures, is to contribute $1.9 million (US$960,310).

Dominica is being asked to contribute $695,876 (US$347,938) in light of its 25 weekly flights, St. Vincent and the Grenadines with 52 departures per week will contribute $1.4 million (US$723,711) while Grenada, which has 35 LIAT departures per week, is being asked to contribute $974,226 (US$487,113).

In a statement following the first round of shareholder talks, held in the Vincentian capital, Kingstown, over the weekend, Dr Gonsalves made it clear that these five countries constitute an “A Group”. He added that while no other government has come forward in the face of the crisis, the shareholder governments are targetting a further three destination governments, namely Guyana (US$292,280), St. Kitts and Nevis (US$389,691) and St. Lucia (US$584,536).