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By Maika Bolatiki

SUVA, Fiji (The FijiSUN) – Employees of Telecom Fiji say they are planning a walkout saying indigenous Fijians are being bypassed for advancement.

"I can confirm to you now that a mass walk-out by indigenous Fijians at Telecom is confirmed," Sen. Ratu Josefa told the FijiSUN yesterday.

The Macuata senator said he had met with representatives of workers and they wanted him to first air their concern in the senate before the walkout.

He said he was told by the delegation that the indigenous workers had been by-passed by decision makers when it came to promotions.

Ratu Josefa said for the last 10 years, the top management, consisting of chairman Lionel Yee and chief executive Winston Thompson had put in place a deliberate policy of suppressing the development of indigenous leadership.

He told the Senate last Friday that two senior indigenous management staff, Marika Vada and Sakeasi Seru, were sent to Harvard and Kellog University eight years ago to prepare to take over from Mr Thompson.

But with Thompson’s contract recently renewed to 2006, Mr Vada and Mr Seru will be due to retire.

The Telecom top men had appointed Norman Nicholls, a New Zealander, as chief operation officer with a $350,000 per annum salary.

Mr Yee had extended his contract by two years to June 2005, although his work permit expires in June 2004.

Ratu Josefa said the indigenous workers felt they had been made slaves in their own country and it was time they showed the management their discontent. He said three highly trained and qualified general managers were sidelined in favor of retaining Mr Nicholls - Sala Kunatuba, Pratap Singh and Taito Waradi.

The Macuata senator yesterday called on government to look into the matter, especially when the staff morale had been at its all time lowest.

Reacting to the allegations, Mr Yee said the Senate should heap praise on Telecom and its 1,000-plus staff for providing the most modern telecommunication system in the South Pacific.

"It is sad that a few disgruntled employees can try to bring shame on the rest of the staff. For ten years since I have been chairman, the staff have faced huge challenges and achieved wonders," he said.

These grievances, he said, may be because of the fear of losing their jobs in the proposed restructure.

But, he said, talks between management and the union had been active since the board announced restructure plans.

"It’s natural when you have a period of uncertainty," said Mr Yee.

He said Telecom needed to go through a restructure to enable it to be more competitive and bring down operating costs so that the benefits of a lower cost structure could then be passed on to customers.

He explained that when he assumed the role of chairman in 1994, the company which was known as Post and Telecommunications was in serious trouble.

It was then that he brought in Winston Thompson.

"Through his (Mr Thompson’s) stewardship, we have seen increases in profits every year for the past ten years since he has been involved."

Prior to this, profit was as low as $8 million a year, he said.

He said executive Taito Waradi would be investigated by a board sub-committee for allegedly leaking confidential information to Senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri.

March 9, 2004



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