SMCU wins injunction about Cable TV workers

PHILIPSBURG–A Judge in the Court of First Instance ruled in favour of St. Maarten Communications Union (SMCU) on Thursday in an injunction against TelEm Group to prevent the company from dismissing St. Maarten Cable TV workers. TelEm Group purchased Cable TV on Friday, September 20, 2016.

When the injunction was filed November 30, SMCU President Ludson Evers said it was the injunction’s objective to prevent the TelEm Group from firing any of the Cable TV workers and to ensure that these workers receive the same benefits as those received during the restructuring of the TelEm Group several years ago. Evers said at the time he had learnt that no collective dismissal request had been filed to let go any of the workers.

Evers said Cable TV has assets that will have to be transferred to TelEm’s holding company and employees will have to be transferred to TelEm’s operating company.

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The Court ordered TelEm and St. Maarten Cable TV to finalise a manpower assessment by January 20, 2018, at the latest on the basis of continued Cable TV operation. Based on the assessment, TelEm and Cable TV will have to arrange the transfer of Cable TV workers to TelEm and arrange the retirement of redundant workers or provide them with assistance by an independent consultant by February 10, 2018, at the latest.

In case of non-compliance, the Court attached penalties of US $10,000 per day, to a maximum of $1 million. TelEm will also have to pay the legal fees attached to the injunction, which were set by the Court at NAf. 2,835.
St. Maarten Cable TV currently has 28 employees and four contractors who work for the company.

In a notice of closure sent out to all Cable TV employees on November 1, it was stated that the Cable TV operation would be terminated as per December 31, 2017, for lack of financial feasibility.

It was stated in the notice that “to properly guide the termination of the individual labour agreements, [Cable TV – Ed.] has submitted to the union a lay-off plan outlining a proposal for termination of the labour agreement for all employees. The lay-off plan provides an attractive social compensation and outplacement programme for employees who agree to accept termination.”

Cable TV’s Managing Director stated by letter of November 16, 2017, that the lay-off plan offered all employees a termination allowance that well exceeds the “cessantia” pay agreed on in the company’s collective labour agreement.
All employees would further receive payment during the applicable statutory notice period. However, this “beneficial package” would be applicable only to those employees who agree to termination on or before December 31, 2017.

For all other employees, the company requested a dismissal permit from the Labour Department on December 5, 2017. By an undated ministerial decision, the Secretary-General of Labour Affairs was granted until March 1, 2018, to decide on the request.
According to TelEm/Cable TV, the lay-off plan would cease having legal effect and would thus end automatically on December 31, 2017. Only the employees who had signed would be able to benefit from the offer made in the plan, it was stated.
In the injunction, SMCU called on the Court to order TelEm/Cable TV to provide the union with information, to finalise the transfer and integration of Cable TV workers, and the manpower assessment for workers and jobs, within one month’s time.

TelEm/Cable TV had called on the Court to reject the union’s claims. The company claimed that Cable TV had suffered losses for years and Hurricanes Irma and Maria had caused damage to its network. Cable TV has a shortage of liquid assets and can barely pay workers’ salaries and bonuses, it was stated.
SMCU contested the declining numbers of Cable TV subscribers and the company’s damaged network.

The company’s shares were purchased to obtain Cable TV’s tubes which will be used by TelEm for its fibre-optic project. Late September/early October 2017, the holding company decided to sell Cable TV’s assets to TelEm, and not to take over any employees. With the sale the holding company is to finance the lay-off plan.
The Court established that up to and including July 2017, it was the intention to integrate a number of Cable TV workers in the TelEm organisation. Besides, there are a number of pensionable workers and some who are not replaceable. Due to fact that the holding company never ordered manpower planning by an external consultant, as agreed with the union, it could not be established how many persons and who exactly are to be sent in retirement or will be laid off.

The Court also established that the lay-off plan had not been discussed with SMCU. The Judge also did not receive an explanation as to why the Cable TV shares were purchased, after which the company negotiated with the union about workers’ integration in the TelEm group for six months.
The Judge said the decision to terminate the workers was contrary to commitments made to take over a number of employees, and to aid others in obtaining pensions or alternative jobs.
The Court ordered the TelEm Group to keep its agreements with the union concerning the transfer and integration of Cable TV employees, depending on the manpower assessment.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/72293-smcu-wins-injunction-about-cable-tv-workers

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