A group of 24 retired Times Media Group (TMG) employees, calling themselves the ‘TMG Pensioners’, has served summons on their former employer, billing the case a ‘David and Goliath’ battle. The group says TMG has backtracked on an agreement to pay increases on their post-retirement medical aid subsidies.
In a statement, the TMG pensioner Roy Paulson – representing the group – said he had met chief executive officer Andrew Bonamour to discuss the issue and that Bonamour had told him, “TMG would not be increasing the pensioners’ subsidy for 2014 because the company would not be increasing its employees’ salaries for 2014”.
“The pensioners are asking the court for urgent interim relief pending further actions to be launched by them and relating to events going back as far as 1998,” they said in the statement. They want the court to interdict TMG from “continuing to breach its obligations” to pensioners and to increase the subsidy for 2014.
But Bonamour disputes this claim. “Paulson is seriously confused. He doesn’t understand the policy and clings to something that was changed with him present at the meeting (it’s minuted),” he told The Media Online.
“In the meeting last year, which was attended by Paulson, Mike, Puleng Namane and I last year, we at no stage said that staff would not be receiving salary increases. We actually said that the staff would also not get an increase in their medical aid subsidy. This was true, as they did not. Later (this year) we did away with medical aid subsidies for staff altogether so no serving staff now receives a medical aid subsidy. They are paid on a cost to company basis and it is up to them to decide how much they wish to receive as a medical aid allowance,” he says.
Bonamour said TMG would fight the summons. “Roy’s position is not correct and we are happy to go to court to defend. Our attorneys are briefed,” Bonamour said.
The pensioners said TMG had offered them a lump sum payout to give up their post-retirement medical aid subsidies, which they had rejected.
In a story in The Media magazine in June this year, Paulson said the payment “would effectively mean that after about three years pensioners would have no medical aid cover at all”.
Bonamour’s response was that the medical aid subsidy was very generous and more suited to a larger company. “Essentially, we’re a small company trying to turn [ourselves] around and we just can’t afford the sort of benefits that were typical of a much larger company. Why should we have to retrench journalists and staff to fund the very generous medical packages for people who left decades ago?” he told The Media.
But Paulson contends “it was both a condition of the pensioners’ employment and a term of company policy that the post-retirement medical aid subsidy payable to pensioners would increase annually in the same percentage as the average annual salary increase granted to employees of TMG”.
In the meantime, Bonamour says TMG is “seriously considering going after Roy on whether he exercised his fiduciary duty to the company at the time”.
Paulson was managing director of the group, then called Times Media Limited. The group of TMG pensioners mentioned in the founding affidavit includes Jimmy Mould, Stephen Mulholland, Hoosen Kolia, Karen Bonsall, Roger Makings, Richard McNeil and Gordon Amos, among others.
They say they have, through their lawyers, requested TMG to make available a full list of pensioners “similarly affected” by its decision, saying until TMG does so they are unable to join all affected parties in the application.
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