Five long-time employees were given their walking papers last Friday, and they are furious, accusing the management of foul play and betrayal.
Doreth Bevans, the paper’s lithographer who has racked up 43 years of dedicated service to the newspaper, was paid $5,940 as severance pay and said this week: “After so many years of service, I did not want to leave bitter. I wanted to leave in peace.”
Fay Castillo, the office manager with 17 years’ of service, told The Reporter that according to the computations of the Labor Department, she should have been given something in the region of $16,000, not the measly $6,000 she received.
Rachel Kisling, the newspaper’s compositor who had served 19 years, told The Reporter she received something like $5,000 as severance pay.
The other two persons who were fired are office assistant Roberto Peyrefitte, who has been on the job for four years and the office cleaner, Natalie Cadle, who has worked for one year.
Bevans, Kisling and Castillo have made it clear they are unhappy with the amount of their severance pay, when they agreed to an interview with The Reporter, after a meeting at the Labor Department on Monday.
Castillo said: “The termination is not the issue… The severance pay is the issue. It’s obvious that we have been jilted. We have been cheated!
“ This is a tactic from Mr. Said Musa, who is using his lawyer skills to cheat us out of what we are due…. I am obviously short of something like $10,000,” Castillo declared..
Bevans added: “Apart from the severance pay package, we also got money that was placed in a pension fund that the late Hon. George Price had set up for the workers of the Belize Times”.
Castillo said she learnt about the pension fund when Johnny Briceño took over as PUP Leader. She said the fund contained $66,981.17, but Mr. Musa did not want to hand over the pension fund to Mr. Briceño.
Mr. Musa, not knowing that the workers knew about the pension fund, took $30,000 from the fund and shared it with us.
“More than $30.000 was left (in the fund) in Mr. Musa’s care, and we never heard anything about that,” Castillo pointed out.
“Now that we have received our severance pay, he (Mr. Musa) is saying that what he gave us out of the pension fund he is taking back out of our severance pay.
“How could he give us severance pay in 2008, when we got the money, and our services were never interrupted!” Castillo demanded to know.
The Reporter also spoke to Mr. Musa, who said it’s an internal matter, but he admitted the late George Price had not told the workers about the pension fund.
Musa said he did not know what was going to happen with The Belize Times when Mr. Briceño took over as leader of the party, as Briceño wanted to bring in his own people.
At a meeting with the workers, he said, he explained to them about the pension fund. We called it gratuity at the time, but it was severance pay, just in case they had to be fired.
“We paid everyone of them off. Doreth Bevans got $19,000,” Musa said.
He added that the money that they receive last Friday was from 2008 to the present time. He said that if the former employees want to go to the Labor Department, that is their right.
On another note, Musa said he does not know how long it will take to reorganize the structure of The Belize Times. But for the time being, the paper will only be available online.
Ed’s note: When the Belize Labour Laws were revised in 2008 to require employers to pay two weeks severance pay to every worker who has served for 10 or more years, many companies retired their work force and re-hired them to avoid the heavier severance burden.
The law, however, is so framed that if an employer terminates an employee and re-hires that same person in the same company or firm, he is still required to pay the two weeks severance pay for every year of service after 2008.