SMCU calls for dismissal of entire TelEm board

POSTED: 03/30/15 12:32 PM

St. Maarten —The board of directors of TelEm is not functioning in its supervisory role and the company is in urgent need of a CEO, the St. Maarten Communications Union opined yesterday, following disputes with management over the opening of bidding, or rather the lack thereof, for the fiber to the home project being undertaken by the company. The union, which made a call earlier this month for the resignation of the chairman of the board, has now issued a call to the Council of Ministers for the entire board to be replaced. The union wants an investigation conducted into TelEm’s operations and into the functioning of its board of directors.

TelEm’s management opted not to be drawn into another public debate with the union, explaining in a response last night that the matter was an internal one. “In connection with these most recent comments made by the SMCU union, TelEm Group will not be drawn into a public debate into what is essentially an internal affair. All relevant authorities have been consulted regarding a need for temporary employment of qualified overseas staff by the Technical Department to assist with a backlog of installations and repairs which continue to affect service to the public. Until this process is concluded, management apologizes to customers and the public for further delays in handling these backlogs,” TelEm’s management said last night.

The telecommunications company and the union have been at loggerheads over this issue for over a month with the company insisting that the project is in its pilot stage while the union contends that the project has passed its pilot stage and the actual project has begun. TelEm employed five workers from Suriname who they said have a proven track record in fiber to the home projects, on a temporary basis to do the pilot to the home project. This did not sit well with the union who took the matter to the labour office, wrote to the Prime Minister and then threatened to take the matter to The Hague if the workers were not made to leave the island. The workers left St. Maarten on March 15th but the union said yesterday that they have been made to understand that work permits are currently being sought for these same workers and they again raised their objections.

“The SMCU is aware that TelEm requested work permits for this group of Surinam workers. SMCU is still of the opinion that this group of Surinam workers infringed on our laws and that they had to be deported with a penalty that they are not allowed to return to the island for a period of one year. In the meantime SMCU sent an email to the head of the labor affairs department requesting that this office assures that this group of Surinamese doesn’t get working permits for the reason of the infringement of our laws. The names of the group of illegal workers from Surinam could be collected by the labor inspector department to verify that those are the same names who worked at TelEm and that they were stopped by the department,” Vice president of the SMCU Sherman Serastis said yesterday.

On Monday March 16, management of TelEm and the SMCU had a meeting in connection with the  Surinamese workers.  “Etnel was surprised that the union went to the media with the matter and didn’t wait to speak to her, but Etnel forgot that management and the union had a meeting on February 27,2015 where management and union agreed that management would open the bid so that the local contractors would get the opportunity to take part in the fiber project,” Serastis said adding that three local contractors names were mentioned during this meeting. “SMCU doesn’t understand how Etnel could be surprised with our action since management didn’t live up to the agreement reached on February 27, 2015. Now Etnel is indicating that the fiber project is a pilot project but we from the SMCU, as employees of the company, know that the pilot project already took place and that now the project fiber to the home has started.

“ Etnel indicated that no biding would be opened for the project that cost more or less a quarter of a million guilders.  This practice of the company is against all norms and method of the company.” The SMCU alleges that despite the many reports and meetings the board of TelEm has not weighed in on the matter neither to find clarity on the “illegal workers” nor “the bidding for the project.”

The union’s vice president opined; “Here again is where SMCU is indicating that TelEm needs a CEO urgently and that the board of directors are not functioning in their supervisory role.  SMCU also wants  the Council of Ministers to dismiss the board of directors and install new members on the board that, yes, can function.”

SMCU said they have not received response to a letter sent to the Prime Minister bringing the current situation to his attention and requesting an audience with him. “What was noticed by SMCU is that Member of Parliament Christopher  Emmanuel posted some questions and investigations (regarding) the illegal workers, but SMCU (believes) that an investigation in TelEm also has to be requested to investigate  the board of directors and the management team of Telem which is not functioning.”

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