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Evans:CWC weakon labor relations

Cable and Wireless Communications'(CWC’s)infamy regional in regards to labor relations is well-deserved, according to Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union(BCPOU)President Bernard Evans, the official union for about 1130 line staff workers of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company(BTC).

In an exclusive interview withGuardian Businessyesterday, Evans said a long history of poor labor relations and an anti-competition stance was symptomatic of how the company conducts business in the region, and this was unlikely to have changed in the last few years.

“Our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, other trade unions that represent workers that are employed by Cable and Wireless have been fighting tooth-and-nail, to this day,”Evans said.”They have[industrial agreements]that have been outstanding for over 10 years.”

According to Evans, the anti-labor stance emanates from CWC’s London-based CEO Tony Rice, who mandated a reduction in operational costs which has meant a reduction in staff across the region. Evans said that this was visible in the company’s”One Caribbean”strategy which has resulted in the centralization of their offices, for example having single Caribbean offices for human resources, information technology, payroll, call center services, etc.

“They’ve already made good on downsizing more than 1500 jobs,”Evans said, adding that the process started in 2008.”This is their mandate. To reduce jobs.”Evans said the strategy has nothing to do with the global economic downturn but was solely to be more competitive as an organization.

According to a report on Barbados-based website Caribbean360.com, in

May 2009 CWC’s restructuring resulted in a 21 percent reduction in staff by March that year, and it was planning to cut another 2500 jobs by March of this year. The One Caribbean restructuring, in addition to reducing costs, was to bring the Caribbean subsidiaries under the LIME (Land, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment)brand, according to that article. It reported that the company also streamlined and reduced staff at its London operations.

The nine year court battle of CWC employees made redundant in Antigua and Barbuda was another example Evans used. According to him, the matter, which started in 2000, involved a dispute over paying out 19 workers four weeks pay per year of service versus six weeks pay per year of service. After losing the case and appealing several times, the case finally arrived at the Privy Council, which ruled this year that not only should the workers be paid the six weeks for each year of service, but an additional 10 percent should be paid for each year the workers were denied their funds. Reports online indicate that it was actually 20 persons involved in the action. The union official who led the charge died last year and was not able to see the victory, according to Evans.

As early as September 2009, according to Evans, the government of Barbados had to force Cable and Wireless to rescind over 100 redundancy letters issued to employees. He said this was despite Cable&Wireless participating in the drafting and being privy to tripartite protocol documents which governed the way they should have proceeded with staff reductions.

After the letters were rescinded, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union Sir Roy Trotman told the Barbados Advocate that talks would resume and layoffs might follow, but that he hoped LIME would be”doing it correctly this time.”

The evidence and reports received from the rest of the Caribbean show that CWC is also against competition, according to Evans.

“They are not a proponent of competition. History will prove this,”Evans said.”In two countries at least they threatened, even though they were the sole providers for land-line and internet services, to pull out if they could not be the regulator to govern the competition, as well as a competitor… even though they knew they were the only people responsible for land-line services, and the only competition that was going to be allowed really was in mobile,”said Evans.”But they thought they would try to force these governments, strong arm them into letting(the company)keep the monopoly on everything.”

A publication on St. Lucia’s Department of Information Services website, written by Press Secretary Earl Bousquet in February 2003, said that Cable and Wireless was in a fight to retain its monopoly dominance in St. Lucia and its fellow Organization of Eastern Caribbean States(OECS)members(Dominica, Grenada, St., Vincent&the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis). This was prior to the expiration of the company’s licenses in March of that year, and the company was threatening to leave the region if it did not get its way, according to that article.

According to Evans the government in 2000 was right when it held the same position as the unions do today. He said the message from the government then was that CWC need not apply in the privatization process, because of their practices. He asked how the company could have changed 140 years of practices in just three years.

“I don’t see where they’ve changed,”the union boss said.

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