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Saturday 7 December 2019
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Minister’s reason for TSTT stores closure: $80M for $8M profit

TSTT spent $80 million to run its nine stores which earned just an extra $8 million in revenues, said Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte in the Senate yesterday. He was replying to Opposition Senator Wade Mark’s motion on the adjournment that lamented the recent closure of the nine Bmobile/TSTT flagship stores and a possible resultant fall in customer-service and possible staff job-losses.

Mark asked if TSTT had “gone mad” in firstly spending $255 million to buy a loss-making Massy Communications, and now shutting its nine stores which he hit as “intolerable, inexcusable and unacceptable.” He lamented spending 90 minutes on a trip to pay his TSTT bill at the Hilton Trinidad in Port of Spain instead of the few minutes usually spent at the TSTT’s store in St Augustine, now being shut. He accused TSTT of “contumely and contempt” to several workers allegedly fired for complaining about re-deployment within the company.

Mark said, “I call on the Government to reverse that decision to shut these outlets and to reinstate these workers.” In reply, Le Hunte said the closures were a critical and strategic decision to ensure TSTT’s viability in a highly competitive area. He said 75 per cent of transactions at the flagship stores were bill payments, and the stores were subject of frequent customer complaints.

Le Hunte said the stores had “extremely high” wage costs including some cashiers earning $17,000 monthly. He said the public will now be served by 250 new outlets and 87 existing dealers being upgraded to take payments, plus online portals and payment kiosks nationwide. “The cumulative impact is a more service-oriented architecture.” On staff, Le Hunte said the stores’ 204 permanent staff will be retrained and redeployed in TSTT, while the 96 contracted staff will be absorbed by TSTT’s partner dealerships.

Later Le Hunte told Newsday the $8 million was extra revenue TSTT would not have earned without the stores. Newsday queried this figure, but Le Hunte could not give a breakdown neither could he state TSTT’s base/main revenues.

Le Hunte said TSTT, like state companies such as TTEC and WASA, cannot continue to live by taxpayer subsidy but change must come. Communication Workers Union head Clyde Elder had not heard the Senate speeches, but rejected Le Hunte’s reasoning as “absolute and utter rubbish.”

He said the union had challenged TSTT to provide data to support their claim of $80 million costs to earn $8 million in revenues, but TSTT has failed to do. “They can’t produce that because it doesn’t exist.”

Elder also asked why TSTT will continue to rent all nine stores but West Mall and Trincity Mall, saying, “So, where are the savings coming from?” He marvelled that TSTT will do back-office operations at the sites of the stores being shut. He added that the commission of $2 to $8 per transaction TSTT pays its agents will erode any savings from shutting its stores.

Regarding salaries, he doubted any cashier earns $17,000 but moreso he queried the CEO’s $300,000 salary. Elder said Le Hunte’s remarks left him angry.

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