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MTN South Sudan denies wage dispute

MTN South Sudan denies wage dispute

The Head of Corporate Services at MTN's South Sudan operations Khumbulani Dhlomo has vehemently denied that the mobile operator is embroiled in a wage dispute with workers, and refuted claims of ongoing negotiations with staff.

This week ITWeb Africa was contacted and sent information detailing a stand-off between the company and specific members of staff.

Sources who provided details on condition of anonymity have accused the mobile operator of compensation discrimination and of serving some members of staff who have lobbied for equal pay with suspension letters.

According to Dhlomo this is not the case. He said that the reality of the matter is that in this economy people use their salaries to buy dollars and use this currency to purchase consumables or spend in the region due to the difficulty in exchanging the local currency, etc. - and the foreign exchange and economy has had a negative impact on salaries, Dhlomo explains.

"The salaries of people have dropped significantly following the devaluation ... and where you could buy 100 dollars with your salary, now you can only buy 30 dollars or less, for example," he adds.

Dhlomo explained that towards the end of last year management considered the worsening condition of the economy, the declining value of the local currency (South Sudanese Pound), and the fact that trade is dominated by foreign currency, specifically the US dollar therefore initiated a process to look at staff remuneration.

In early January 2016 the company called a meeting to update staff on its plans going forward to alleviate the difficulties in light of these circumstances.

"Members of staff then requested a closed meeting by themselves to consider the situation and their response... after this they drew up a petition or list of demands, if I can use that word, and presented it to one of our executives. The next logical step was that this had to be then processed..."

It was here when the company came across what Dhlomo claims is evidence of fraud in the form of signatures on the petition of people who the company says it can prove were not at the initial meeting. According to Dhlomo it means that people signed on behalf of others, and is therefore fraudulent.

MTN took action by serving those implicated, five employees, with suspension letters.

However, sources told ITWeb Africa that there is a clear pay gap between local and foreign staff.

The claim is that in 2013 an average foreign staff member employed at mid-management level was earning twice as much a local counterpart in the same position.

The allegation is that in 2014 and 2015 the number of local staff was reduced and the number of foreign nationals increased, and by the end of 2015 the pay gap stood at 83%.

Dhlomo makes it clear that foreign nationals being referred to are actually skilled expatriates employed by the company and paid in US Dollars.

He adds that these people must be compensated for the hardship and difficulties experienced in relocating from their home countries and there cannot be equal pay between these employees and local members of staff.

"But there is no compensation discrimination in my view. We have different pay formats for different staff categories. For example, when local staff get a 13th cheque, the highly skilled expatriates get nothing," he said.

While it is not immediately clear what the next step in the process will be, sources have demanded to know if the company is aware of the pay gap, what the average salary is for national staff and have also stated that negotiations must take place, with concern the situation may deteriorate if not resolved quickly.

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