Cellphone company’s workers in dire straits
ISLAMABAD, Jan 4: The best reasons to work for the telecom sector include superior benefits — medical and insurance — and the plus side is the exposure to international business and culture. But all these are like fading dream for the employees of a mobile phone company.
For several months now, former and serving Instaphone employees have not been paid their salaries, gratuity and provident funds. This has become a routine for the company to delay salaries by months and this situation has been continuing since January 2008.
A real kick in the teeth came when Instaphone recently decided to shut down its operations and any glimmer of hope died. Many have quit the company and moved on. Many still, not prepared for a prolonged struggle, have absolutely no opportunities for any kind of advancement in their careers with Instaphone.
What did follow is an outpouring of anger and frustration from people employed by the mobile phone company. “We thought the company will be turned into a profit-making organisation. Instead of making the company better, the management of the company made a complete mess of the corporate affairs of Instaphone by running it on unprofessional lines and suffering losses at every stage,” a senior Insta employee confided.
“The CEO does not seem to pay any heed to the hue and cry of the employees despite having been reminded and reiterated on countless occasions,” a senior staffer protested.
“Dues of former employees have not been cleared either. The distressed employees have been visiting the company since 2007,” he added.
He said their medical/health insurance policies and other benefits were withdrawn in February 2008 and the vendors had not been made payments for the last two years,” an employee said.
It is a painful situation not only for the employees but for their families as well. “In these days of hyper-inflation, it is extremely difficult to make both ends meet,” the senior employee complained.
Fighting at several fronts to keep the kitchen running, another employee said: “We have been borrowing money from friends and relatives to survive and pay for food and children’s school fees.
The management is least pushed about this gross neglect and their treatment is inhumane. The exploitation must end.”
Instaphone was the subsidiary of the Pakistani Arfeen Group. Arfeen took over Instaphone in May 2006 when the Luxemburg-based company, Millicom International Cellular (MIC), disinvested.
On May 21, 2008, the government cancelled Instaphone’s licence when the company ran into financial difficulties and failed to pay its dues to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
South Korea Telecom and then the Russian telecom investors, Altimo, also backed off due to poor investment climate and political instability or so they say.
“Investment has been fine elsewhere. Incase of Instaphone, it was management failure to attract them. The crisis is of leadership and the crisis is of competence,” said one former senior Insta employee.
With 500,000 subscriber base in the good old days, Instaphone was probably one of the simplest ways to get connected. It was the first to launch pre-paid technology.
It was difficult to understand the direction the company had chosen to move in and frustrating that management seemed to lack the critical organisational skills necessary to implement the plans.
“They asked us to stay with the company and that things will be fine. But they lied from day one,” said a disgruntled employee, adding that “like all crimes have victims, we are victims of this white collar crime”.
The PTA on the other hand was considering coming down hard on Instaphone.
“They shut down their services without informing the authorities. There has been no official correspondence,” said a PTA official.