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Some of the former ETC’s employees who have not been offered new positions at the newly established Ethio-Telecom want to leave the company instead of taking it up on its offer to establish a share company to which the services they used to perform at the former company can be outsourced. Yet, some desperately want to stay, writes EDEN SAHLE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Telephone Bill Delay Amid Claims of Chaos Inside

Former ETC employees enter Ambassador Theatre chaired by Debretsion Gerbremichael, minister of Communication and Information Technology, on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.

Jemal Kider is among the 134 former employees of the former Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ECT) who have been assigned a new position at the newly established Ethio-Telecom, the French company that beat 13 other bidders to acquiring a share of the ETC.

Jemal, who spoke to Fortune on condition of using a false name for the sake of his job security, was employed for a year by the ETC, which was established in 1952.

He first attained a new position as an accountant for ETC in one of the northern regions, where he lived alone. While attending a training session for the company in December 2010, he was informed that he was being transferred to the Addis Abeba Branch of the new Ethio-Telecom, forcing him to leave home.

Initially, the former ETC selected 14 telecom companies for an international bid it had issued. Some proposed to be shareholders of the company, rather than accepting the management contract. As a result, only five companies made offers for the contract, Debretsion G. Michael, minister of Communications and Information Technology (MoCIT), had told Fortune.

The bids were evaluated based on the companies’ proposals, taking into account key performance and quality indicators set as parameters by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). These included quality and penetration of the network, revenue generation, as well as capacity building which were used as a parameter of selection.

The tender was awarded to France Telecom Group with an offer of 667.2 million Br. The biggest part of the evaluation counts the technical proposal, while the financial offer amounts to the smallest bit, according to Debretsion.

Only two companies passed the technical evaluation: France Telecom Group and MTN, a South African company. From this final list, the former was selected to administer the former ETC for the next two years.

After selling his belongings which he could not bring to the city, Jemal moved to Addis Abeba where he stayed in a hotel room until he found a house to rent at 800 Br. In total, he spent about 5,000 Br from leaving home until settling in his new house. However, he had no problem in paying the amount, since he had been provided with 3,000 Br from the former ETC.

Although he did not have work for the first week following his appointment, he did start performing his duties immediately. To his surprise, he was advised to return to where he came from as his transfer was not correct.

“I had spent what I had and even sold my things at the place where I used to live,” he told Fortune. “I am very angry and frustrated. I was happy about my accounting job at Ethio-Telecom but now I am not sure what to do or what to expect.”

Members of the management who have made this mistake will be held liable for their irresponsible actions, Debretsion told Fortune.

Jemal is one of the close to 13,200 employees of the former ETC of whom 5,000 were reappointed by the new management.

Since a new company has been established, people needed to reapply for jobs, but the ministry gave priority to former ETC employees with N4 positions before starting to hire people from outside, according to Debretsion.

The new management has a position division from N1 up to N5. N1 and N2 are appointed by the board of directors, while the remaining positions are left for those who are experienced and have good educational backgrounds, as well as qualified former employees.

For levels N3 to N5, the labour union was made part of the jury to observe and participate in deciding on qualified employees to be offered opportunities at the new company. However, N5 positions are identified based on their experience.

Before the announcement of the new employees, the labour union would be notified to evaluate fairness of the process, the minister had told Fortune.

Members of the labour union held meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, February 9 and 10, at the Ambassador Theatre. They were emotional and angry with Debretsion, who chaired the meeting with Aytenfisu Worku, project coordinator of Ethio-Telecom.

Thousands of former employees attending the meeting were frustrated and said so to the minister.

“You should remember where you came from back in the earliest days when you, as a fighter, lived in poor conditions,” they told him.

“Calling the minister untruthful!” was one of the slogans shouted by the frustrated and desperate employees. The employees who claim to have been left without anything after serving the company for years were emotional.

I lived in that condition to ensure liberty for my fellow citizens, the minister responded.

Former ETC departments such as Garage, Fuel, Supplies, Clinic, Collection, and Drivers do not form part of the new company.

Yet, Ethio-Telecom needs these services and a new modality of supplying them has been created whereby the company would outsource these services, the minister explained to the labour union members.

Since the new company could not employ them, a share company, affiliated with Ethio-Telecom but separate from it, is to be established to organise them for provision of these services not only to Ethio-Telecom but also to other companies, according to Debretsion.

To start with, the company will be under the government’s supervision, as it would be public property, he said further. To purchase shares in the company, former ETC employees can pay 50pc upfront, while the balance can be paid at a later stage, the minister explained.

However, this proposal was not welcomed by the former employees, who requested compensation to leave the company for good, an alternative proposed by the minister.

In support of this, stood two engineers who had been working for the former ETC for the past four years.

They have no interest to be employed there any longer, they told Fortune. Along with many of their colleagues, they had asked for their work experience letter.

“No one has the courage to work for a company that does not care about its employees to begin with, while it has assigned former employees who are deceased and people had who left the country,” one of the engineers, told Fortune.

The employees who have not been assigned to any task just come and go out from the Ethio Telecom at anytime they want without notifying anyone.

Nobody seems to be in charge or control of the working hours of employees and they just come and go as they please, Fortune learned upon visiting the head office.

However, all are being paid full salaries.

As a result of this apparent crisis, the company had stopped collecting service charges for December’s bills, delaying the payments, sources from the company had claimed.

Ethio-Telecom eventually cleared this up, and sent a text message to customers on Friday, February 12, apologising for the delay in issuing the December invoices.

“Your collection centre is now ready for payment,” the text message read.

These sources also claimed that the company had lost 12,000 Br and 1.5 million Br from Semera Town, Afar Regional State, and Bahir Dar Town, Amhara Regional State, respectively. The payments were allegedly made by customers to employees in the town’s collection centres before the latter disappeared, claimed these sources.

While the former ETC is within its rights to restructure its organisation, the company must follow legal procedures while terminating the contracts of its former employees, according to Regan G. Medhine, a legal expert. It has to consider the length of their service to the company and educational backgrounds, he claimed.

“The employees would have an advantage if they joined the proposed share company because in the long-term they will benefit from not working as an employee but as a shareholder with better income,” Regan told Fortune.

Alternatively, it would be wise to invest the compensation in something they want to do, according to the legal expert.

Yet, some employees, such as Jemal, are seeking reemployment with Ethio-Telecom and are waiting to learn their fate in the company.

The end of the half-day meeting, which closed without reaching a consensus, did not bring answers for either Jemal or the employees who want to leave the company.

The meeting was closed with Debretsion’s suggestion that the former employees decide whether to join the share company or take the compensation and go their own way.

The employees are to fill out forms to choose their next steps with the company as of this week.





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