On Tuesday, we told you of the lawsuit that is before Supreme Court Justice Lisa Shoman involving Belize Telemedia Limited and ex-employee Oscar Gongora. Gongora who worked at the company for nineteen years is suing for severance. He says that BTL owes him a little over thirty-four thousand dollars. The company’s position as explained by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck is that its pension scheme covered the severance.
SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for BTL: “The position of the company is that Mr.Gongora and others like him have been satisfied by way of it’s contributions to the pensions scheme. BTL has a contributory pension scheme and in about 1994/95 all employees were paid the severance and it was decided that going forward severance would be paid by way of the contributions to the pension scheme. The way the scheme works is that the employee contributes money each month from their salary and then the company also puts money in on behalf of each employee and what they’re saying is that their contributions for Mr.Gongora and others like him more than exceeds what the severance entitlement is and in fact covers that severance pay. So what they’re saying is that he’s already been paid his severance. There’s a position* in the act, Section 194 which we interpret to mean – and this is what the court will decide, courts have touched on it for other companies before there was on similar claim against BSI, there’s been claims against Belize Water Services from my recollection there’s been claims against others. But it says where you have a contributory pension scheme and the employer contributes to that scheme and an employee is paid under that scheme a pension benefit for the period the scheme operates that the company need not also pay severance for that period.”
Reporter: So why are we seeing these claims ?
SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for BTL: “Well people think they have an entitlement to it and they will pitch and argument for entitlement. I think Mr.Bradley can explain what their position is.”
Gongora is being represented by Darrell Bradley. There are reports that several other employees are seeking to file similar cases against BTL.
SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for BTL: “Severance is well now two weeks pay for every year of service. It’s not like in 1994 severance would have stopped, every year if it were to continue it would have accrued”
Reporter: But they got a pay out. They were paid up until the time that they worked.
SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for BTL: “Right. They were paid up until the time they worked because the understanding was going forward the pension payment would cover it and that’s the long and short of the dispute there. They’re of course maintaining that the company is obliged to pay their pension payment and pay severance so that in Mr.Gongora’s case for instance where the company contributed some $45,886 to his pension payment he is asking for an additional $34,343.92 when the company is saying that the $34,343.92 is covered within the $45,882 that was paid. I believe there are a number of other claims I don’t know the number. I know there’s one in which several of them have joined up to bring a claim but that’s a different claim from this one.”
Reporter: But is it making the same argument that they’re owed severance ?
SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for BTL: “I believe so. These claims come up from time to time. It just so happens that there are more than one of them pending in relation to BTL which are being managed.”
Gongora is also claiming interest and cost of court. The case was adjourned to July 21 for ruling.