Former employees of telecommunications company, Ozone Wireless who were laid off last year feel betrayed by their former employer and left in the dark about thousands of dollars owed them and which have been outstanding since last May when they were dismissed.
Irate employees are also up in arms about what they believe is a lack of care and professionalism on the part of the labor department in response to their plight.
Two employees told Barbados TODAY they were at their wits end following failed attempts to recover the outstanding money from directors and former directors of the company- mostly non-nationals, who, since the company came to the brink of collapse last year, had resigned and virtually vanished.
Although the company was still clinging to life months after its near collapse, Barbados TODAY understands that sacked employees at all levels were still seeking outstanding vacation money and payment in lieu of notice from their former employers, leaving some in severe financial difficulties.
“This is the first time in my life that I have had to face a bailiff,” said one of them.
Others said when they were sent packing last May, they had not been given any formal correspondence from the company informing them of retrenchment. Instead, they were given National Insurance (NIS) unemployment forms and told to report to government’s labor office.
“On the day in question there was just a whole set of green papers being handed out and persons who knew better were saying ‘they can’t do this’ and some of us had to send an email to the principal investor to say we need letters indicating what has happened,” said one former employee who said she was informed that no such correspondence would be forthcoming.
In response to their claims, disgruntled workers described the labor department as being “virtually useless”.
“You go to the labor office, you get assigned to a labor officer and there is no logic to how you are assigned to a labor officer. So for instance, of the over 50 persons opening a case on the Ozone matter, there seemed to have been no communication between the labor officers,” he said. Meanwhile his colleague charged there had been a blatant lack of responsiveness by labor department officials.
“I remember the very first day I was given my green paper, I came home and called the labor department to verify what I was entitled to. They said no officers were available at the time… the receptionist took my information and promised she would have somebody call me back. I didn’t hear her and nobody called me back, so I had to contact a lawyer.”
Efforts to reach Chief Labor Officer, Victor Felix and Ozone’s CEO Dr. Nicholas Kelly were unsuccessful. However, the company’s St. Lucia based telecommunications consultant, Lester Edwards acknowledged that the company still had outstanding debts to its employees.
“There is no objection to the responsibilities that have been committed to… there is no resistance. There is new management and new management has no resistance in compensating them,” he said without giving a timeline for when monies would be paid.
While struggling to make ends meet over the last seven months, ex workers say the terms of their dismissal were making it very difficult for them to find employment elsewhere.
“We can’t even say to prospective employers that we have been retrenched. There’s no correspondence stating why I am no longer with this company. You have not acknowledged that you owe payment in lieu of notice, vacation pay, and the value of it or anything like that. Verbally, I was told by the interim General Manager that the Principal Investor is not writing any letter for me and that I should take the green paper and go,” said the woman.
Ex employees also shed light on the atmosphere at Ozone Wireless in the months leading up to the company’s tough decisions. One employee revealed that some members of middle management knew as early as October 2017 that the company was not meeting its targets and experiencing some financial challenges.
The company is said to have paid employees late in January and February of 2018. However, the first true indication that the company had found itself in serious difficulty came in March when workers were given an ultimatum. They would either have to accept a pay cut or be laid off.
“It was not said officially, but it was indicated that we were at a critical juncture, so if you are not willing to take a salary cut, then you could go through the door… it wasn’t optional and that was understood.
“Some of us would have taken a pay cut from as low as ten per cent to as much as over 50 per cent,” said the worker.
Former employees were reportedly told that the cuts were intended to give the company a lifeline as directors sought to raise investment and capital.
“Some of us would have been working on some of those investment pitches, trying to get additional funding, but even then it was not shared with us that there was a cash flow problem as severe as we later discovered.
“We know for sure, every single person took some sort of cut,” she said, adding that the lack of opportunities on the local job market also deterred former employees from resigning.
The sources told Barbados TODAY that some staff members had resigned from other local telecommunications companies in a bid to help revolutionize the local industry by increasing competition in the industry dominated, by two companies, Flow Barbados and Digicel.
“We were determined to make a difference and we did, because we caused the other companies to seriously revise their product offerings. It actually caused Flow for example, to pay greater attention to its customer service. They started to look at the level of service because of what was unfolding at Ozone,” said the employee.
“Ozone brought a lot of value to Barbados, so I am not being vindictive. I am one of the persons that badly wanted it to work. But when we realized perhaps it was not going to work we simply advised them to wrap things up properly, but unfortunately they have not done that,” said the discouraged ex worker. [email protected]