By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company's (BTC) chief executive has confirmed it will roll-out its latest employee voluntary separation programme (VSEP) "in the coming days".
Garfield "Garry" Sinclair, in a statement, said: "BTC reaffirms our commitment to building a culture of high performance that will ensure that we have the right teams in place to deliver the moments that matter to our customers.
"As we continue to compete in the rapidly evolving telecommunications industry, we are enhancing our operating model to ensure that we remain the provider of choice for the Bahamian people. As such, BTC will implement a VSEP in the coming days and will share all relevant details of the offer with colleagues who wish to participate the programme. Colleagues will have the opportunity to indicate their interest during a specified period of time."
No further details were provided. Dino Rolle, the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union's (BCPOU) president, could not be reached for comment before press time last night.
However, the line staff union has filed a trade dispute with the Department of Labour over the VSEP initiative, alleging that BTC has failed to properly negotiate its terms with the worker representative. John Pinder, director of labour, previously said the union was seeking a VSEP package collectively worth $19m, while the company said it could only go as high as $11m.
Mr Sinclair, in a previous interview with Tribune Business, pledged that the new VSEP packages will be "considerably more" generous than in previous downsizings as BTC bids "to create the impetus for a cultural evolution in the business" to help it cope with ever-increasing competition.
Leaders of the two trades unions representing BTC staff, including Mr Rolle, have suggested that the carrier is hoping around 100 staff would accept the packages, although Mr Sinclair said numbers and costs had yet to be determined.
He emphasised that it was "voluntary", with no forced redundancies involved, and said that unlike other VSEP-type exercises at other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) he would not stand in the way of any BTC employee wishing to leave.
Other entities, especially Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), rejected numerous VSEP requests on the grounds that the persons involved had specialist skills for which there were no ready replacements. However, Mr Sinclair pledged this would not occur, saying: "I want people who want to be here."
He told Tribune Business: "I can confirm we are going to engage in another VSEP here. It's going to be voluntary, and there's no set number in mind. As part of this thing we have to look at numbers to get a sense of the costs, but the VSEP is going to help us create the impetus for the cultural evolution in the business that's going to happen as we evolve from this monopoly environment into a competitive environment.
"Yes, a VSEP is more than likely going to occur, but it will be voluntary. The package is going to be attractive enough for any colleague who feels they've come to the end of the road in this business, don't like what the leadership is doing with this business, they will be able to put their hands up and say they'd like to avail themselves of this and we will be able to accommodate them."
BTC currently has some 700 employees, of whom 520 are full-time staff. The remainder are contract workers, and Mr Sinclair said he was unsure "what the contention" of BTC's two unions, the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) and the Bahamas Communications and Public Managers Union (BCPMU), would be in relation to the likely VSEP exercise because it was voluntary as opposed to being forced.
He added that their opposition was another example of the unions' tendencies "to find a dark cloud behind every silver lining, which they need to resist if we are not going to become extinct". Yet within an hour of his interview with Tribune Business on Friday, both unions were demanding Mr Sinclair's resignation and alleging VSEP negotiations had failed.
However, the BTC chief told Tribune Business: "We're definitely in the planning phase. We want to execute it properly and sensitively, and create as soft a landing as possible for colleagues that put their hands up, and mare sure we're prepared for what the business and operating model will look like afterwards.
"My belief is if people put up their hands and say they want to go, we're going to have to restructure this business in a way that allows us to deliver a solid customer experience, products and services without them.... I want people who want to be here.
"All I can say is that the packages we are planning for, and contemplating, are going to cost considerably more than last year for the same number of people for planning purposes. When you go from being a $330m revenue business to a $220m business you have to change the operating model; you can't stay the same."
Mr Sinclair said BTC, which two decades ago had around 2,000 employees, had always used voluntary separation exercises to reduce the size of its workforce. Historically there have been no forced mass redundancy exercises.