13 April 2012
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai promised Thursday to reach out to the Labor Ministry and other officials to ensure that nearly 400 employees from a leading television production company be paid compensation and their salaries.
Meanwhile, the company’s employees, who have not been paid last month’s salaries, hired a law firm to represent them, in a battle expected to last into May.
PAC, a production company providing services for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International and other media outlets, called on the Labor Ministry in a letter on March 21 to hold consultations to discuss laying off 397 employees. It cited “economic reasons” for the move, a justification that would allow the company to withhold compensation from the employees.
Saudi businessmen Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns a majority of PAC’s stock. A large number of employees working at LBCI , which is headed by Pierre Daher, are PAC’s.
Addressing a delegation of the employees who visited Bkirki to brief him on the company’s decision, Rai stressed that he is against anyone losing their job or not being provided compensation, adding that he would contact the Labor Ministry and other officials to safeguard the rights of the 397 employees.
The employees, who have yet to receive their March salaries, described to Rai the financial difficulties they are facing, as they have outstanding bills to hospitals, schools and banks.
A statement by Lebanese Media Holding, which owns PAC, said Wednesday that it is ending the operations of the company due to losses sustained after the refusal of LBCI to pay it its dues.
“The failure of LBCI to pay for programing produced by PAC and the ensuing disputes with the head of LBCI and former-head of PAC and Rotana TV, Mr. Pierre Daher, have resulted in the inability of PAC to pay the salaries of its employees and continue to sustain the ongoing costs of production and operations,” said the statement.
“Despite its prime location, diversified production facilities, multiple studios and talented production staff, the PAC production facility has sustained significant losses for some time, many of which stem from actions and decisions taken by the previous management team,” it added.
The statement came in response to a news broadcast aired last week on LBCI , during which it ran what it called the “the full story” on PAC and LBCI .
In 2003, Bin Talal became the owner of 49 percent of stocks in PAC and in late 2008, he acquired the majority of stocks in PAC after an agreement to raise the capital in a bid to improve the programs and develop production under the supervision of Daher.
LBCI said that in 2010, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch became an investor in PAC, which was merged with Rotana, but said the cooperation between Murdoch and Bin Talal did not improve the media group as expected.
A PAC employee who requested to remain anonymous told The Daily Star that he and his colleagues had Thursday hired a law firm to represent them.
“We tasked the law firm of George Khadij to follow up on the issues of our salaries and compensations,” he said.
The employee predicted that LBCI would continue its operations, and employ perhaps half of the people slated to lose their jobs.
“Sheikh Pierre Daher will hire a number of the [PAC] employees, maybe between 150 and 200,” he said.
“What we are essentially demanding is that we get paid the salaries of March and April and receive our compensation,” he added.
He said employees were surprised by the sudden deterioration of the situation and wondered why Daher, who is believed to still have a small share in PAC, did not inform them about the matter in advance.
But speaking to The Daily Star, Daher said he never knew about PAC’s intention to stop paying salaries to its employees. Asked about plans to hire PAC employees at LBC, Daher said he was awaiting the final decision of PAC.
“The employees have not been officially dismissed,” he maintained
During the first consultation session with the Labor Ministry on March 26, PAC lawyers provided financial reports they said proved that the company had incurred financial losses, but they did not attend the second session which was scheduled for April 4.
Elie Bitar, an adviser of Labor Minister Salim Jreissati, told The Daily Star that PAC could only avoid paying compensation to the employees if it proved that it had incurred significant financial losses over the past three years.
In the event that PAC does not pay compensation to employees without proving that it has sustained major losses, the Labor Ministry would send a letter to a Labor Arbitration Committee, which could issue a decision forcing PAC to pay the compensation for the employees along with an additional payment if the committee finds they were subject to arbitrary dismissal. Bitar said that things should be clear within a month.
Separately, the Lebanese Forces condemned in a statement Thursday the laying off of PAC employees, and blamed Daher for their plight.
“The recklessness and the greed of the people currently in charge of the TV station has given way to harming the interest of these families,” it said.
In 2007, the LF filed a lawsuit against Daher over an ownership dispute over the Lebanese television channel, which was established by the party during the Civil War In March, the Beirut Prosecutor’s office dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the statute of limitations in the case had run out.
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