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Union wants regional governments involved in CWC-Columbus merger

Published:Wednesday | December 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is appealing to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to intervene in order to stop a merger between the British telecommunications giant, Cable and Wireless (CWC), and Columbus International.

The CWU is also suggesting that the Telecommunications Service of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) be listed on the local stock exchange and that the union be involved in any discussion regarding the proposed multimillion-dollar merger.

"We wrote to the Telecom Authority on August 18, raising our concerns about this development. A letter was addressed to Mr Selby Wilson in his capacity as chairman of Telecom Authority. Up to this day, we haven't even had an acknowledgement or receipt of our correspondence," CWU Secretary General Joseph Rey said.

"We will continue to write them, because we believe we are a major stakeholder in this thing, because we represent the workers who work in this industry. We represent the citizens who don't have a voice," Remy said, adding that there was need for regional leaders to intervene in the transaction since there were implications for the regional telecommunications sector.

fair competition needed

The St Lucia-based Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) has already stated it would ensure that any new licence granted to CWC to operate in the subregion will take into account the need for fair competition.

A statement issued following a special meeting of the ECTEL Council of Ministers earlier this month noted that in addition, the regulatory body will also suspend the announcement of a new "Price Cap Plan" until after the completion of the review of the applications by the parties involved, and amend the Price Cap accordingly.

The announcement followed a meeting here to discuss the proposed merger amid fears that it would result in the formation of a monopoly in the subregion.

CWC Chief Executive, Phil Bentley, has given a commitment to Caribbean governments and regulators that if the company's US$3-billion acquisition of Columbus International is approved, the enlarged CWC will not negatively impact competition in the cable and broadband markets.

"In the Caribbean countries in which CWC and Columbus overlap - Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada - we know that we have to work closely with governments and regulators to ensure that our customers benefit and competition is not compromised," he said.

Digicel, CWC's biggest competitor in the Caribbean, has repeatedly stressed that approval of the transaction will provide CWC with market dominance in fixed broadband and in cable.

Last week, regional regulators and leaders of telecommunications companies met here to discuss the proposed acquisition, and Remy said that TSTT should be listed on the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange (TTSE).

Remy said that CWC has 49 per cent shareholding in TSTT and is likely to sell those shares if the transaction gets the green light.

"We believe that we have examples in the Caribbean where fully regionally or locally-owned entities have proven to be a success," he said, noting that the First Citizens Bank here "has proven to be a successful financial institution and it is wholly owned by locals.

"Why can't the same happen in our telecommunications sector which is so vital to our regional economic development?" Remy asked, adding that trade unions and credit unions will benefit if TSTT shares are traded on the TTSE.