Industrial Sabotage: If it’s Good for the Goose, it’s also Good for the Gander
By Crosbie Walsh
Last Thursday FINTEL, the nation's internet gateway provider, cut telecommunications provider Telecom's access to its services, causing costly disruption to government departments, national and international airlines, banks and other business houses for up to three hours.
The Fiji Times said the action "brought the country almost to a stop [and] crippled critical services." Air Pacific, whose major shareholder is the Fiji government, had its flights to Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne, Honolulu and Korea delayed and its domestic carrier, Pacific Sun, had its flights disrupted.
The action, taken because of a financial dispute in which FINTEL claimed Telecom (FTL) had owed it $300,000 since June 2010, was only resolved when the Commerce Commission stepped in and ordered FINTEL to restore services. Commission Chairman Dr Mahendra Reddy expressed disappointment with FINTEL.
He said the parties had met last week when TFL had said it was willing to pay the bill (or entrust the Commission with the money until the dispute was resolved) but it wanted FINTEL to provide a detailed account. FINTEL did not object to the TFL request.
Dr Reddy called the FINTEL action "an abuse of its position as the sole gateway provider." He said the action had had a negative impact on the economy and could also cause FTL customers to think FTL was an unreliable provider. He saw this as a "serious issue" and would be taking "some action."
Some action? I would have expected a call for scalps. The board — or more likely a single senior executive— ordered an action that caused widespread disruptions whose costs are likely to run into millions of dollars.
This was not an accidental or thoughtless decision taken by someone who had got out of bed on the wrong side on Thursday morning. It was a very deliberate decision to ignore the previous week's meeting with FTL and the Commerce Commission. It was an attempt to force prompt payment by FTL, irrespective of the consequences to thousands of Fiji citizens and visitors to the country.
Dr Reddy called it a "serious issue." I would call it industrial sabotage. And this by a company that on its web page "acknowledges its social responsibilities as a corporate citizen" and, ironically, is 51% owned by Government. If the person who made this decision was unaware of its likely consequences, he is clearly unqualified for the job; if he was aware, and said "to hell to the consequences", he is a saboteur who should be removed from his job and face legal charges.
This may seem to be an unduly harsh stance but it is not unreasonable given the extent of the damage, and Government’s concern about protecting industries vital to the economy. If Government is concerned about protecting the sugar and airline industries from disruptive trade union activity as indicated in the proposed Employment Relations Amendment Decree, it must also be concerned about rogue management in its partially owned telecommunications industry. What FINTEL did was industrial sabotage.
The Employment Relations Amendment Decree
The Employment Relations Amendment Decree 2011 is yet to be signed by the President but when it becomes law, as it probably will, workers in "critical corporations," meaning those employed by government the sugar and airline industries, will deprive these workers of existing union representation. The decree will force the unions concerned to re-register and "all office-bearers, officers, representatives, executives and members of a union which represents workers employed by Critical Corporations must, at all times, be employees of the Critical Corporation they represent." In other words, if a union leader is no longer employed by the company, they will not be allowed to represent its workers. Nationally, it is a direct threat to organized labour and in individual workplaces it will expose the union representative, an employee, to possible employer reprisals.
Government's intentions are clear and understandable. It attributes past airport and sugar mill disruptions to outside professional unionists also wearing political hats (and there is certainly some evidence of this) and sabotage was suspected in one sugar mill breakdown. These are industries vital to the nation's economy.
But the proposed decree, which will put employees in these industries on a par with the police and military, puts legitimate worker rights in jeopardy. It's like using a pneumatic sledgehammer to crack a coconut: just like the FINTEL action. The Decree will make any organization or person which fails to comply liable to a fine of up to $50,000 or a jail term of up to five years.
This might be an appropriate penalty for the FINTEL Board and its erring executive. If its good for the goose, its good for the gander.