by Christina Smith
What was expected to be a comfortable and relaxing retirement period has turned into worry and frustration for a former employee of the St Vincent Electricity Services Limited (VINLEC).
Winston Boyea, age 61, worked for 35 years at VINLEC as an Operator, after which he claims he was “forced to retire” when he reached his 60th birthday on May 16, 2021. The move has resulted in Boyea losing a cumulative total of 18 per cent on his pension entitlement from the National Insurance Services.
Under the Parametric Reform, which came into effect on January 1, 2014, the pensionable age was set to gradually increase based on the birth year which means that for persons born in the year 1960 to 1961, as is the case with Boyea, pension eligibility starts at age 63. The reform was implemented to ensure the security and the financial sustainability of the pension scheme.
In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Boyea explained that he discussed with VINLEC the possibility of staying on with the organization until he reaches age 63 so as not to be penalized with a reduced pension from the NIS, but was flatly told this is not an option.
“When they tell me that they retiring me because I reach my age, I ain’t say nothing but when I realize now the money that I am getting, [with] CLICO demise, I ain’t getting much so I had no choice but to go take my pension.”
The “CLICO demise” referred to by Boyea is the 2009 collapse of CLICO International Life Insurance Ltd. resulting in policyholders across the region losing millions of dollars on pensions plans. Employees of VINLEC too felt the pain as the company’s pension plan was originally held by CLICO.
Boyea said he was disheartened to know that the notional value of his pension plan had dropped from $176, 674.33 to $107,627.56, which represents a 60 per cent loss on the contribution. He now receives $465 monthly from his former employer.
Boyea described the situation as “unfair” and admitted he was growing more frustrated when considering the financial obligations he has to meet on a monthly basis. He explained, in addition to the employer pension benefit, he collects $1,700 a month from the NIS, most of which goes to cover his mortgage payment.
“I only have about a thousand dollars to play with … it is unfair. Vinlec or the government should have given me the option [to work]. But they ain’t give me no choice.”
Boyea added that he believes changes need to be made either by the government and private sector employers to avoid the loss of benefits.
Meanwhile, Acting Chief Executive Officer of VINLEC, Dr Vaughn Lewis told SEARCHLIGHT the company has set its retirement age at 60, adding that there are no immediate plans by the Board of Directors to amend this policy.
“There is no discussion that we are having right now or intentions to change the retirement age.”
Dr Lewis said the option to work past the age of 60 is only made available if necessary,but this is not often the case.
“When persons join the company they are aware of the retirement age. Sometimes if there is a specific need in the company for a service that the employee may be able to provide, that option is on the table but it is not the practice. It is an exception.”
Commenting on the reduction of Boyea’s annuity payment, he said VINLEC restored the employee contributions under the company’s plan (formerly held by CLICO) so as to cushion the financial blow to its employees.