Published On: Thu, Jun 7th, 2018

Cable TV employees battle dismissal

Ourt Court House by Alphonso Nestor-Hubert

PHILIPSBURG – Sixteen employees of St. Maarten Cable TV are fighting for their jobs, but its parent company Caribbean Teleview Services NV wants to dissolve their labor contracts. The Court in First Instance heard pleadings on Wednesday morning from the attorneys for both parties in a session that lasted more than three hours. The court will rule on the dispute on June 29.

At stake are some fundamental questions. On January 3, 2017, the St Maarten Telecommunication Holding Company (the TelEm group) acquired the shares of the Cable TV company. The holding transferred the shares on January 20, 2017, to TelEm.

Of the 28 Cable TV employees, 16 were represented in court by attorneys Monique Hofman and Peter Bruns. They argued that it has always been the intention to transfer the Cable TV employees to TelEm.

But Kimberley de L’Isle, the attorney for Caribbean Teleview Services (CTS) denied that TelEm ever made promises to put the 28 employees on its payroll.

TelEm CEO Kendall Dupersoy, who was present at the court hearing, said that the value of Cable TV was not in its services or its employees, but in its infrastructure. The take over focused on that infrastructure and was a strategic move to outmaneuver TelEm’s competitors, he said.

While Hofman and Bruns argued that Cable TV still exists and that Trevor Da Costa functions as its director, De L’Isle countered that the activities of Cable TV are now operated by the St. Maarten Telecommunication Operating Company – a TelEm entity –  and that Cable TV itself only exists to deal with its outstanding obligations to prevent bankruptcy.

De L’Isle told the court that, if the TelEm Group were forced to put the Cable TV workers on its payroll, it would represent an additional annual burden of between 2.4 and 3.1 million guilders, and possibly more depending on the applicable labor conditions. “This while the TelEm group conducted a reorganization in 2012 to make a large number of employees redundant for financial reasons.”

According to De L’Isle, incorporating the Cable TV employees in the TelEm payroll is “not an option.” The Cable TV company went into a dramatic funk, when the number of subscribers dropped from 7,251 in 2016 to just 2,246 in 2017.

The Cable TV employees have, in case they do not become part of the TelEm family, submitted a demand for compensation that adds up to 2,818,200 guilders. “That is four times as much as what Cable TV has offered,” De l’Isle said, adding that the company would be unable to pay that amount.

Hofman and Bruns maintained that it has always been the intention to integrate the Cable TV employees in TelEm. In spite of promises perceived by the employees, Cable TV unexpectedly sent them a lay off proposal towards the end of 2017. Afterwards, the company submitted requests for dismissal to the Labor Department. Those requests were denied om March 1, 2018.

The union initiated a lawsuit against Cable TV and on December 28, 2017, the court ruled that the company had to complete a manpower assessment by January 20, 2018, and that it had to facilitate the transfer of workers to TelEm or to the position of independent consultant by February 10, based on the results of the manpower assessment that could also send certain employees into retirement.

Cable TV and TelEm appealed the verdict. The Court of Appeals said in a ruling dated February 2, 2018, among other things that the TelEm holding had to make sure that the Cable TV employees would not be fired and that they would continue to receive their salaries.

Hofman and Bruns conclude that Cable TV and TelEm have made solid promises to the Cable TV workers; they find the Labor Department – with its refusal to allow dismissal – on their side. They asked the court to declare Cable TV inadmissible in its request to dissolve the labor contracts.

At the end of the hearing, two Cable TV workers addressed the court, but their brief statements came down to the same thing: ‘We just want our jobs back.”