PHILIPSBURG:--- In 2010, Management and Union signed a protocol to change the pension scheme from last pay to average pay. Vida Nova made a new policy that governed the transfer of the participant's pension right from last pay to average pay.
This change was documented in the CLA which was negotiated between Management and the Union. It clearly stated that all employees starting in January 2010 would now be covered by the average pay scheme.
In 2016 The Island of St. Maarten has rectified the AOV pension age from 60 to 62 years old. Our CLA states that the retirement age is 60, or as stipulated by law, or by Vida nova pension funds.
At the time that the pension was negotiated, we did not know that the AOV pension age would have changed from 60 to 62.
There is no retirement law governing private pension funds. Only AOV has a law governing it, which means that companies can choose whatever retirement age they please. But normally pension funds make sure their pension payout is tied to the AOV pension law/age.
This is also stated in the Vida Nova pension policy, which Telem falls under.
I was in a board meeting in 2016 that Vida Nova informed both the employer and employees’ representatives of Telem that the retirement age of 60 of Telem had to change, because of the AOV age had increased to 62.
Telem chose not to take this information from Vida Nova seriously and neglected to increase the retirement to 62. In 2017 Vida Nova was forced to increased the premium from 24% to 32.4% because Telem wanted to maintain retirement age of 60.
Telem then sent a mail to the union informing the Union that Vida Nova was increasing the pension premium from 24% to 32.4%.
However, the SMCU was already in discussion with GEBE on the same topic and received a presentation from Vida Nova where the premium would have only increased to 25.2%. The retirement age would have increased to 65, with the possibility to retire from the age of 55 up to 65.
The Union forwarded the same presentation to Telem Management because we saw that the premium would of only increase by 1.2%. Employees would pay 0.4% while the employer would be responsible for 0.8%. The problem with Telem is that management still wanted to maintain the retirement age at 60.
The Union tried on several occasion to explain to management that maintaining the retirement age of 60, is no longer possible because the AOV payout pension is at 62. There would be a two-year gap for the employees if they were forced to retire at 60 instead of 62.
Telem management insisted that they could not change the age to 62. The reason they gave was that when taking the loan for the Fiber-To-The-Home project, that they promised the banks that the send home the employees at 60. After these employees were forced to retire at 60, Telem would not fill these vacancies, and would, therefore, have to pay less salaries.
On May 31, 2018, Telem sent a letter to all employees informing them that they had an outstanding balance with Vida Nova. A calculation was made with an amount each employee would have had to pay and for how many months.
Immediately the Union requested a meeting with the CEO because the employees could not be forced to pay any outstanding that was caused by management. However, before the union could meet with the CEO, the letters were retracted on June 1, 2018.
The Union decided to still go ahead and meet with the CEO about the letters dated May 31, 2018, and their retraction of June 1, 2018.
After several meetings, the Union started sending letters via the lawyer informing the CEO the same information pertaining to the retirement age. He was informed that it had to change, otherwise, the employees who retired before 62 would be financially impacted due to the AOV payout pension, AOV AVBZ AWW premiums, and medical coverage.
The CEO then offered to payout all the above expenses for the employees until the age of 62. The last letter sent by the Union’s lawyer dated February 4, 2019, informed Telem’s management that the current AOV age of 62 should not be mentioned. What should be mentioned is, “the age as stipulated by AOV law”, in case the age changes again. However, the CEO did not agree with the Union’s request and wanted to maintain a limit of 62.
In the meantime, the CEO signed a different agreement with Vida Nova changing the pension scheme from “average pay” to “defined contribution”. The CEO did this without having an agreement with the Union. The CEO bypassed the Union and sent letters directly to the employees forcing them to choose between different options. He also gave a deadline to choose. He stated that the company would choose for the employee who did not reply by the deadline.
The Union again informed the CEO that there is an agreement in the CLA that must be respected. Before making changes, the CEO had to negotiate the matter with the Union.
On Friday, July 5, 2019, the Telem employees received two statements from Vida Nova dated May 17, 2019, and May 21, 2019.
The statement dated May 21, 2019, stated that the employees’ “average pay” pension was postponed on December 31, 2018.
The employees never requested to postpone their pension and now find themselves in what can be qualified as a savings scheme instead of a proper pension.
The Union now intends to take Telem to court for violation of the pension article in the CLA, and for committing the employees financially without proper authorization.
The union also intend to take Vida Nova to court for not instructing its client (Telem) to comply with the policy between Vida Nova and Telem.