Telecommunication union accuses TelEm of hiring illegals:  Calls for resignation of the board

POSTED: 03/6/15 1:26 PM

St. Maarten – A vote of no confidence in the board of TelEm and the resignation of Raphael Boasman as the head of that board because of a conflict of interest, were among issues cited by the St. Maarten Telecommunication Union during a press conference yesterday.

The union called the press conference to air some of their grievances in the court of public opinion after having received no satisfaction from management and board of TelEm to their issues, chief among which is the employment of a Surinamese company to perform paid employment that the union feels can and should be done by local contractors. Head of the union Hudson Evers said the matter of the illegal Surinamese workers was brought to the union’s attention by Alberto Arrindell, a former employee of TelEm and now a private contractor.

Arindell has since sent a letter to Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs expressing his disappointment with TelEm’s management opting to bring in foreign labour for a project that local contractors did not get an opportunity to bid on and could have done just as well as the workers that have been brought in. The reasons cited by TelEm—more man power, a proven track record, etc—for bringing in these Surinamese employees also did not hold water with the union. Evers said the union has already explained to TelEm bosses that the situation is unacceptable.

“During a meeting with Etnel we expressed our displeasure with the situation. There are local people on St. Maarten that have the qualifications and they are not being approached. It was agreed that these contractors would be called in and a bidding process would start and that way all contractors would get a fair chance to do this project. To our information, beginning this week no bidding went through and these Surinamese are still working. In our power we sent letters to the Immigration Department, the Labour Department and the Labour Inspectorate,” Evers explained.

He said the union felt it necessary to do this for a number of reasons. “For Surinamese to work here they need a working permit, in order to do such a big project you need to have a company registered here on St. Maarten to pay taxes on whatever they are receiving, and they don’t have it. Our local people, ex-employees, have their company and they have all their legal documents to operate in this country. To boot we have an agreement in the social plan, since the restructuring in 2012, and this agreement covers employees who become redundant and establish a company. These employees have preference over the bidding of any project that the company is going to do once they have the qualifications, manpower and the legal documents to do so,” Evers explained.

Because there was no bidding for this project, which basically entails laying fiber optic cables, the union contends that these foreign contractors were handpicked by the company bosses.  The union stresses that it is unacceptable that there are people on St. Maarten who have the qualifications and are being overlooked, while they cannot find jobs.

The Union has called on the Prime Minister in its letter to “put a stop to this illegal situation that is occurring at TelEm.”


TelEm refutes

Meanwhile in an invited comment, TelEm acknowledges the use of five workers from Suriname on an emergency basis during the busy Christmas period and following the passage of hurricane Gonzalo late last year when company manpower and local contractors were all deployed in restoring the local telecommunication network.

“Upon completion of set tasks, and based on a backlog of work that continues to challenge the resources of internal manpower and local contractors, a decision was taken to continue to use the assistance of  the team of five workers and also to seek the group’s assistance with completion of a ‘pilot’ fibre to the home project with which they have had hands on experience in the Netherlands, Curacao and  Bonaire.

“Since fibre to the home has never been executed on St. Maarten before, management sought the assistance of the team of five to train local staff on the required techniques of FTTH installations and also to document best practices to follow so that proper Terms of References can be created for a final bidding process which will entail providing fibre to the home island-wide.

“TelEm Group has informed the relevant authorities about the circumstances surrounding the temporary employment of the five workers from Suriname in the context of the emergency conditions under which they were required and a subsequent request for their continued assistance in providing support to maintain telecommunications services on St. Maarten and assistance with an important pilot project that was being delayed due to the demands for technical staff and local contractors.”

TelEm Group management opted not to comment on any allegations of the SMCU union regarding alleged conflicts of interest concerning the TelEm Board nor concerning confidence in the actions of the board.

Conflict of interest

The union contends that Boasman being the chairman of the board of TelEm is a conflict of interest while he still holds the position as the government mediator and policy advisor at the Labour Department. According to Evers Boasman who has been on the TelEm board for several years and the union have drawn this to the attention of the management, plus the former government, the Ombudsman, and they shall now take their plight to the new government.

“We find it is a conflict of interest that Boasman as a government mediator over the policy section is the chairman of the board of TelEm,” Evers said, adding that Boasman himself has acknowledged the conflict of interest in his dual roles. He cited a letter written to the Ombudsman by Boasman where he asked to be excused from mediating in a dispute between TelEm and SMMC because of a conflict of interest. “We are requesting that the government officials, Prime Minister, Council of Ministers, the parliamentarians, step up and do something about this situation. This might be just the beginning, we don’t know if there is more to come.”

The Surinamese contractors were brought in following hurricane Gonzalo, and the union head said in that case the union “let it slide because we had to bring back country St. Maarten.” However, Evers explained that the crisis situation has been dealt with and as such the union sees no reason why the foreign company should have been re-contracted. He gave examples of incidents where Boasman’s dual roles posed a clear conflict of interest which hampers the effective functioning of each of the positions he holds. Evers said that Boasman has held the position of chairman of the supervisory board for several years and through the years the union has raised the issue of his conflict of interest at all levels to no avail.

“The easiest way for our government officials to fix it, which would be the Council of Ministers, is for Boasman as the chairman of the board to immediately abandon his,” Evers said. Letters to that effect have been sent to government and the Labour Department and according to the union head although a letter has not been sent directly to Boasman, they are confident he will receive a copy.

No Confidence

The union also has no confidence in the entire supervisory board of TelEm which they allege have not changed members in over seven years. The head of the union further alleges that the board is being bribed by the company, by having the company pay for their travel. He noted that the board has no call to get involved in the day to day running of the company nor do they negotiate on the company’s behalf, so there is no valid reason for the company to pay for travel for the board members.

The union plans to seek an audience with Prime Minister Gumbs to address this and other issues.

TelEm Group assures the union and its personnel that it will continue to make use of local contractors wherever and whenever possible, even when the use of local contractors proves to be more expensive.

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