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Union Remains Unhapppy With Btc Staff Salaries After Layoffs

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

The industrial agreement recently signed between the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and its line staff union "favours" those identified by the company for voluntary separation employee packages and not those who remain with the company, a senior union official told The Tribune yesterday. 

Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) Secretary General Dino Rolle said while the union was "satisfied" with what was being offered to persons receiving the separation packages (VSEPs), its "problem" has always been the "compensation that would remain" for those who would stay on with the company.

Now, according to Mr Rolle, the salary penned in the industrial agreement does not reflect the "additional responsibility" or "expanded roles" the remaining employees would incur due to the eventual departure of some of their colleagues. 

"The increase that the union was looking for to compensate that hasn't been realised," he said. 

Mr Rolle added the union previously battled against a "threat" by BTC's management that persons would depart from the company without having a guaranteed pension. He said once the union had ironed out that discrepancy, its focus was to find a way to improve the benefits for those who are identified to stay on with the company during the restructuring process.

However, he said BTC's management has seemingly been successful in "tying the two together", resulting in the union signing off on "watered-down terms and conditions" while the persons receiving the VSEPs "left under good terms".

"(The agreement) favours, and the union isn't knocking it, but it favours those persons more who are separated, more so than those persons who would remain in the company," he said. "We wanted to strike a balance with it to ensure that both sides were completely happy with the deal." 

He added: "The union's position had always been, since we were able to secure certain things for those persons who were identified for separation, that we were satisfied with on one hand what those persons would be receiving who were identified for separation. 

"But the union's problem has always been the compensation that would remain under any industrial agreement for those persons who would stay on with the company."

On Thursday BTC announced its signing of a new industrial agreement with the BCPOU, which now puts the company in a position to restructure and lay off staff.

In addition to offering the VSEPs, BTC said it is now also proposing outsourcing opportunities, a key component of the agreement.

The BTC "outsource model" will be offered to individuals or groups of employees who can provide a proposal for identified services such as warehouse duties, bill printing and various above and underground field services such as tower and cable riggers, the company said. 

Employees identified by outsourcing will get a fixed-term contract for the period of their employment until a vendor for the designated outsource area is selected by BTC, the company added. 

"We are very excited that we have been able to identify these opportunities," Leon Williams, the BTC CEO, said. "Ex-employees can become entrepreneurs owning their own business and BTC can reduce its operational costs - we feel that under the circumstances, it's as beneficial to both parties as it can be."

Earlier this week BTC announced that it had signed a three-year industrial agreement with the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union (BCPMU). 

The packages agreed by both unions, for BTC line and managerial staff in areas of outsource, offer salary incentives and medical and training awards to assist staff with the transition, BTC said. 

Standard practice counselling services on all related matters, including financial planning, will also be made available by BTC to all affected employees, if needed, the company added. 

On Sunday, Mr Rolle had said the union expected BTC to lay off 140 people this week, as a first round of layoffs as the company prepares for competition in the mobile services sector. 

At that time, he accused BTC of attempted to "strong-arm" and "bully" employees to agree to unfavorable terms in a new industrial agreement amid pending layoffs. 

At a press conference on Monday, Mr Williams denied those assertions. 

However he would not confirm the lay off figure and would only say the restructuring would happen "very soon."

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