February 1, 2016 By Patrick J. Kamara
Some 74 former employees of the state owned Sierra Leone Telecommunication Company (Sierratel) have filed a law suit against the company for bonuses, severance benefits and compensations due them, to the tune of Le1.4 billion.
Lead plaintiff, Alfred Sesay, claimed through his lawyer, Elvis M.B. Kargbo that the company had failed to pay their full redundant benefits since December 2014.
Sierratel laid off 59 staff while some of them were retired in 2014. Since then the company has allegedly paid only part of their benefits and pensions, with the ex-employees claiming that monies paid to them were less than what the company should have paid them.
The company, on the other hand, says the balance amount had been paid to the National Revenue Authority (NRA) as redundant tax for all the erstwhile workers.
The 74 men, however, are in disagreement with the company, thus instituting litigation against their former employer.
Counsel for the defendant, R.A.D. Jones, in his submission to Justice Miatta Samba, said he relied on the entirety of affidavits sworn to on 22 January, 2016 and exhibits attached therein.
He prayed that the court orders a stay of execution on the motion they had already filed, and that the court should set aside judgment delivered during the last sitting on grounds of irregularities.
Jones submitted that the method of computation and the suggested method by the plaintiff should be stroke out because it has no basis in law.
The plaintiff had suggested to the court that the matter should not go on trial as there were irregularities in the filing process from the defendants, and that the Finance Act 2015 is very clear on issues of taxation.
However, Jones countered that the Income Tax Act No.8 of 2000 as amended was the applicable law at the time the plaintiffs had their contracts of service terminated or they were retired.
He said their contention was that the tax should be calculated as the total sum of terminal redundancy, bonus and compensation fees, while the plaintiffs contend that it should be applied on two heads separately.
“The issue on the calculation of tax is what accounts for the difference between what was paid so far to the plaintiffs and what they are claiming in the writ of summons,” he submitted.
The defence counsel pleaded with the court to look into the matter as the issues raised could only be resolved at trial. He said the court was at liberty to look at the documents in the affidavits and listen to oral evidence from NRA and the Ministry of Labour, as they are responsible for calculating benefits of employees. He averred that the remainder money allegedly owed to the ex-workers had been paid as redundancy tax to NRA.
Earlier, Justice Samba ruled partly in favour of counsel for the plaintiffs to set aside the judgment on the grounds of irregularities.
Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Elvis Kargbo, replied that he relied on section 4 of the Finance Act of 2015. He said a company could only deduct tax if the calculations of the redundancy payment were above Le50 million, with the said tax being 5% and not 30%.
“Deducting 30% tax from my clients’ [benefits] is unfair. The company only paid them for two months, what about the remaining eight months,” he questioned.
Kargbo urged the judge not order a trial but to sanction the defendants to pay the ex-workers.
The matter will come up again on 2nd February for the judge to rule on the submissions.