TelEm Group announces official end to restructuring process

TelEm Group management last Thursday announced the official closing off of the company’s restructuring process following months of negotiation and final implementation.


In a brief ceremony, management and union used the occasion of Thanksgiving Day, November 22, to give thanks for the successful completion of restructuring within the TelEm Group and exchanged mutual congratulatory messages for carrying out a "difficult, but necessary" exercise in the history of the company.

Management has confirmed that as of Thursday, November 22, 2012, all personnel remaining with the company after restructuring have been successfully moved from the former Sint Maarten Telephone Company N.V. to the new Sint Maarten Telecommunication Holding Company N.V.

At the end of the exercise the number of personnel in TelEm Group has been reduced from 200 to 134 workers following a program of voluntary leave, early retirement, non-placement of staff and non-replacement of non essential staff positions during the past three years. The manning levels are expected to rise to no more than 154 workers should remaining vacancies be filled.

During the short ceremony held at the TelEm Group Building, Thursday, both management and union were joined by Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Directors of the Sint Maarten Telecommunication Company N.V., Mr. Rafael Boasman, to recognize the work of various stakeholders played their respective parts.

Chief Financial Officer, Mrs. Helma Etnel said the process has been a large and painful one for all parties concerned requiring much preparation from the Transition Agreement, the Social Plan and the new Collective Labour Agreement signed between management and union.

"Most people focus on the placement only but it was an entire process that took us more than a year to complete and included the process on how to place workers, how to prepare the new organization, new and more efficient ways of working, manpower planning and then after placement, the objection and appeal process.

"The most intense part was between April and June when management and union worked together side by side, sometimes on a daily basis, next to each other, to try to take decisions to the benefit of the company and staff.

"We have tried to be as transparent as we can, to be objective and fair by working with independent committees wherever possible to ensure that no personal liking or disliking affected the process.

"In the end you will have some pain, but by proceeding the way we have, by admitting to mistakes we have minimized the pain to the extent that we have now placed as much people as we can in the new company," said Mrs. Etnel.

The CFO said persons not placed in the new company received redundancy packages that were more than required by law and management has also put an Outplacement Program in place to counsel and guide personnel no longer with the company so that they can be trained to find other jobs or start up new businesses, some of which are already contracted by TelEm Group.

"Although at times we have a different role from the union, we were still able to find common ground to achieve our goal and to save this company and the remaining jobs of people in this company," said Mrs. Etnel.

She said both parties have done the best they possibly could and went on to thank the Supervisory Board Chairman, Mr. Boasman for his support throughout the process, as well as the Shareholder.

Mrs. Entel also thanked her colleagues on the Management Team, Chief Technical Officer, Mr. Eldert Louisa, and Chief Commercial Officer, Mr. Brian Mingo for each playing their own respective parts.

Mr. Mingo said his initial fears of a social nightmare from restructuring thankfully did not happen because of the strong measures put in place by management to ensure fair and transparent treatment for its personnel. Similarly, Mr. Louisa recognized the diligent work carried out by both parties in the long-term interest of the company, but preferred to look forward to what remains to be done, especially in the technical department where a number of personnel positions and departmental changes have taken place creating a number of challenges that have to be bridged.

Mrs. Etnel said the next step will be intensive training programs for staff in the new company along with new work practices to become a better company and to work in the interest of TelEm Group customers in a positive manner.

"We still need each other, and hopefully we can continue to prepare this company for the future," the CFO added.

President of the SMCU, Mr. Ludson Evers, acknowledged that the restructuring process was not an easy task for management, nor for the union and its membership.

"We had battles to get restructuring going because of partnering talks that were going on at the time. We had our disagreements and there were a lot of emotions, but we still managed to come out of this in a positive way after signing different agreements and amendments.

"We want to thank the employees who have left us and those who remain and who have had to put up with this heavy, heavy burden that was resting on their shoulders, because it was a very stressful moment for them as well.

"We look forward to a professional company working to safeguard the company to make sure that we get good profit-sharing for the years to come and that we do not have to talk about restructuring again," said Mr. Evers.

Fellow board member Mrs. Nathalie York-Frans also thanked management for its efforts over the past months and indicated that the restructuring process had also taken an emotional toll on the union board members themselves, who found themselves having to explain their actions to their membership on many occasions when some of the issues became complicated and had to be addressed with management.

"The pain is over and the pain is much less, but even with the understanding and compassion in the company, we still have angry employees and issues that still need to be addressed," said Ms. Frans.

Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Directors, Mr. Rafael Boasman, praised both TelEm Group management and the SMCU union for putting personalities aside so that they could complete a very difficult task not only in the history of TelEm Group, but also in the history of labour relations on St. Maarten.

He said management and union together accepted a challenge by the Supervisory Board to complete the restructuring process themselves – without outside help – and it was only then that the ball really got rolling.

Mr. Boasman predicted that in terms the type of labour organization that has prevailed over the TelEm Group restructuring process, this will serve as a model for St. Maarten for years to come.

"In all my years involved in the labour movement I have never witnessed a re-organization that was completed to this extent with the co-operation of a union that would be considered relatively small by union standards in terms of it’s membership, working along with a management team that had a number of projects running, investments, renovations, 3G innovations – all at the same time that restructuring was going on.

"The odds were in favour of losing rather than winning and yet you both managed to bring it to a successful conclusion with mutual respect and without the need for any industrial actions or lockouts," continued Mr. Boasman.

"On behalf of the entire Supervisory Board I am very proud to have been chairman of the board in the period during which this remarkable achievement was realized and I hope that the new working relationship that you have managed to achieve with each other continues to be put to good use in the further development of TelEm Group," added Mr. Boasman.

And following the Thanksgiving Day announcement last Thursday, TelEm Group announced that it has called a general meeting of staff for November 30, 2012 during which the official closing off of the restructuring process will again be confirmed to staff along with a presentation on the next steps that will be followed.

TelEm Group management meantime thanked its personnel and the families of its personnel for their co-operation, patience and understanding during this entire process.

Management is especially keen to show that in collaboration with the union the well-being and fair treatment of personnel during this difficult time was foremost in the minds of all stakeholders and that all efforts have been made to make the restructuring changes as painless as possible.