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BTC will have’90 percent’ Bahamian staff

While Cable and Wireless Communications has not yet gotten to the point where it can say definitively how many work permits it would need after acquiring a majority stake in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company, a CWC official said yesterday the Bahamian component of BTC’s workforce would be in the 90 percent range.

Lachlan Johnston, director of brand and communications at CWC, was a guest on the Star 106.5 FM talk show”Jeffrey”with host Jeffrey Lloyd.

Johnston said CWC has not yet finalized a business plan for BTC but continues to work toward that. Government officials and members of the privatization committee are working to finalize the sale deal.

It is understood that their work continued throughout the holiday season as union officials opposing the planned sale worked on strategies to derail the current privatization plans.

Many BTC employees, meanwhile, remain jittery as the company is prepared for sale.

Under the deal, CWC would have a three-year exclusivity period for the mobile business, which accounts for the lion’s share of BTC’s earnings.

“It’s clear and we’ve made no secrets about it. We have to get the business ready for competition,”Johnston said.

“We have to make it efficient. We have to make it fast moving, flexible. We have some experience in moving from a monopoly to a competitive environment.

“The best case study we often quote is all of the mistakes we made in Jamaica where we were a monopoly. The government introduced competition. They introduced new mobile players. We didn’t react at all. We didn’t expect that they’d do anything. We thought our technology was the best. We thought our services were great. We thought we were more than capable of keeping all our customers.”

“They ate your lunch?”Lloyd cut in.

“Without question,”Johnston said.

“They now have three or four times the market share that we do in the mobile space in Jamaica and what we found is that by not reacting, by not getting ready for competition we actually ended up with a smaller business than what we have had.

“So whoever is the owner of BTC has to make sure that it’s ready for competition when competition comes to The Bahamas, otherwise you’d end up with a much worse business. And that’s not good at all for the customers of BTC.”

Johnston said a privatized BTC would still have a union presence, as CWC works with unions across the Caribbean even though many of its competitors in the region do not allow unionized workforces.

He said CWC looks forward to sitting down with BTC’s unions to discuss plans for the company under privatization.

But union officials remain strongly opposed to any such meeting, saying that because they would never entertain a sale to Cable and Wireless there is no point in sitting down with any CWC official.

Noting that CWC Caribbean–known in the region as LIME–has 2,800 employees, Johnston said the company has a good track record of resolving union issues.

“I think the union is very entrenched within BTC so it would be foolish for us to start suggesting that the workforce there won’t be unionized,”he said.

“We will work with them. We will work with the people that represent our workers.”

Union leaders have expressed concerns about the future of BTC employees, including the company’s management after privatization.

But Johnston assured there is no need for concern.

“Across our business we believe in local management,”he said.”They’re the people who understand the communities that we operate in.

“There are some good managers with BTC. We haven’t worked in depth with them yet but they must be doing a good job. They understand this market, the culture here, the community here, much better than someone from England, someone from America, so of course we’ll have them in our management team.”

Stressing that he could not be too specific as CWC does not yet own the company, Johnston said he could not make any commitments about the shape of BTC’s future management team.

“We don’t know yet to be honest but of course the business will be predominantly Bahamian and that’s just talking about the top management team,”he said.”I think if you take it as a whole percentage, 90 percent of the workforce will be Bahamian.”

He added that CWC will move quickly to provide improved technologies and services for BTC customers, and predicted that customers will soon be running a lot of their life from their cell phones.

“The telecommunications world moves very quickly,”Johnston noted.”…So without putting a number on it, there’s a definite resolve to move quickly, to improve service quickly.”

The government is hoping to finalize the deal with CWC by February 15.The Guardianunderstands that it is on course to achieve that, although the unions have vowed to block the sale.

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