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Can BTC survive as a house divided?

Published: Jul 29, 2013

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The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) is in a strange position. Next year its cellular monopoly is supposed to end and the stakeholders who make up the company are divided.

The Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) represents line staff at BTC. Bernard Evans, BCPOU president, skillfully uses every public utterance he makes to tear down BTC’s majority owner, Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC).

On Thursday, Evans said he was told the company wants to downsize 175 workers, a move the union would not stand for. Evans added that BTC employees are overworked due to downsizing after the company’s 2011 privatization and that he is ready “to go to war” with company executives.

“We know their plans and we are prepared to prevent it from happening,” Evans told The Nassau Guardian on the sidelines of the BCPOU’s 39th annual convention at SuperClubs Breezes.

BTC has denied it intends mass layoffs.

“While we are hard at work trying to deliver better service to our customers, we have leadership of our non-management union engaged in what can best be described as mischievous efforts to undermine team morale and to distract from the very important tasks of making things better for our BTC customers and our BTC team members,” said BTC CEO Geoff Houston in a statement yesterday.

Houston is clearly annoyed with Evans.

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration has also been consistent with its opposition to CWC, making for an awkward situation between it and the company in that CWC is the administration’s partner in BTC. CWC owns 51 percent of the company and the Government of The Bahamas 49 percent.

Prime Minister Perry Christie has pledged to get back the majority stake in BTC for Bahamians. Speaking last year of efforts to take back that stake in BTC, Christie said, “It's going to be with the best interest of the country in mind.”

The union does not like CWC. The governing party does not like CWC. CWC seems unhappy with the posture of both the governing party and the union.

For companies to survive in competitive environments, workers, managers, executives, unions and owners have to all work together – at least a little bit – for the advancement of the organization as a whole. If there is internal warfare, along with the external fights with competitors, that company will not last that long in the marketplace.

If these serious divisions at BTC between CWC, the PLP and BCPOU continue, the jobs of all who work there will be at risk. Whether or not they agree with the original sale of the majority stake in BTC to CWC, constant statements by the governing party and union criticizing CWC are not helpful.

The BCPOU gets union dues if workers are actually employed at BTC. The government’s share in BTC only has value if the company is able to keep its door open. Those two stakeholders should remember that when next they go to war in the public sphere with CWC.

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