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INVESTIGATION: Ugandan Engineers Stranded as Airtel Sends Work Back to India

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Airtel is in the eye of a storm over jobs

Airtel Uganda is a mobile communications and information technology services provider in Uganda. The company was founded in 1995 as Celtel Uganda, the first mobile telephone company in Uganda.

In July 2007, Celtel Uganda changed its brand name to Zain Uganda.

In 2010, Bharti Airtel acquired majority shareholding in the business and the name was changed to Airtel Uganda.

In 2013, Airtel Uganda acquired the assets and subscribers of Warid Telecom cementing its position as the number 2 mobile telephone network, behind market leader MTN Uganda.

But the rate at which the company is disposing off highly trained Ugandan engineers in favour of Indians living in India has raised eyebrows.

It all started in 2012 with Airtel migrating to a Managed Services Business model, where it hired different companies namely IBM to run IT operations.

On the hand, Nokia Siemens Networks (currently known as Nokia) was hired to run the Network Operations and ISON BPO would manage customer care operations

During this transition, many employees lost their jobs as the receiving companies had to reduce operational costs to run the Managed Services support at a profit.

An investigation conducted by ChimpReports has discovered that these same companies brought in the so-called experts with an aim of transferring knowledge to the local employees for a period after which they would leave the locals to work independently.

Interestingly, some of the expatriates are still working here in Uganda till now which in turn deprives local Ugandans job opportunities.

Jobs Taken

ChimpReports has learned that currently over 90 percent of the jobs in the Airtel IT Department alone have been taken away from Ugandans and the same jobs are being done remotely in India.

“As of to date only about 5 local engineers sit at the Airtel office in Bugolobi,” a highly placed source at the Airtel Headquarters told this website this week.

“This is a team which initially had over 20 engineers. The few local engineers are senior engineers only who have worked with the company for over 10 years. Worst of all only having their role as providing a physical connection to the team in India,” the source added.

This development has raised concerns that apart for the massive repatriation of billions of dollars in profits every year, the multinational telecom is sidelining highly skilled Ugandan labour force.

The revelation is also a call to relevant bodies to put in place a strong government policy that protects skilled professionals working with multinational companies.

Contacted, UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi said this was an “immigration matter,” adding, “investors clear with Uganda Investment Authority and Immigration department.”

Mutabazi said this was an “employment matter as well within the ministry in charge of labour.”

Asked why Airtel would use engineers in India instead of hiring equally qualified locals, Mutabazi said “Airtel invested to make money.”

He, however, supported the idea of reviewing the government policy to compel companies to hire a specific number of locals.

Status

Sources told ChimpReports that the situation is so alarming that, “All servers are here but Indians are logging in remotely to resolve faults. The next step all servers will be out of the country.”

The independent sources, who preferred anonymity so as to speak freely, added: “This is so embarrassing, Ugandans are studying, paying school fees, buying Airtime, using Airtel money and data services but are losing big time on the employment side to such poor supervision from our government.”

Airtel speaks out

Contacted, Airtel Public Relations Officer, Faith Fiona Bugonzi said in a statement that “outsourcing is a widely embraced international business model” which “facilitates economies of scale, ensures best practice within competitive multi country environments and enables profitability.”

She said profitability is “key to ensure we can sustainability retain the teams who work with us.”

Separately, concerned officials at the telecom said the situation is getting out of hand.

They said the same vendors, (Nokia, IBM) which were outsourced also started outsourcing sub-departments to other companies.

“Since 2014 Nokia outsourced all its operations to Global Delivery Centre-India (GDC) and all its field and transmission operations to Innovis Telecommunications International,” said a high ranking Airtel official who emphasised his displeasure with the way the Ugandan professionals were being excluded from high profile positions.

“GDC is based in India and operates in a way that work is delivered from remotely via internet. They claim to resolve any fault locally on the network remotely. This whole introduction of GDC has rendered many Ugandans unemployed.”

But Bugonzi told ChimpReports that part of the best practice sharing process used by Airtel is not only “having external talent in Uganda but also having our Ugandan staff in other parts of Africa i.e. our Head Office in Nairobi, Tanzania, Seychelles and Rwanda.”

Bugonzi didn’t provide the number of Ugandans in those countries and the positions they occupy.

She added: “We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity. We embrace local talent and have internship programs every year from which we take on graduate trainees in several departments after completion of their university degrees.”

Is this true?

Officials told us that today you will hardly find any graduate working for Airtel Network department/ Nokia Networks/ IBM who graduated in the last 4 years.

At the time of migration from Zain to Airtel, NOKIA employed over 100 Ugandans.

As of to date, Nokia employs approximately 40 Ugandans.

When an individual leaves the company, no one is hired to replace but rather the job is transferred to India.

The lead drivers of this GDC project are the Network director Airtel Rajesh Agrwal and Shoib Sakarani, the Network Director Nokia.

HUAWEI and ZTE, which are currently doing MC (managed capacity) for Airtel, are also culprits.

ChimpReports understands both have their operations managed remotely in China, and having several foreigners in Uganda doing jobs that would otherwise be done by Ugandans.

A source said these expatriates do not even have work permits.

“On occasions when the Ministry of Internal Affairs was called in to help and round up these guys, they always have insiders who inform these guys not to report to office that day,” said a source.

“We have also observed an increased risk of accessing the sensitive country data through this remote log in which is done by these so called Invisible labor force.”

Airtel said it remained “sensitive to staff” and has always been committed to “minimizing the impact of any process adaptations” to the team.

The telecom further said one of the fundamental objectives is to remain a “high performing organization”, which “continually satisfies the needs” of all the stakeholders, “especially our customers.”

Airtel said it’s among the “best and largest employers” in the country, both directly and indirectly.

“Over and above we have created more employment through the distributorships, call center, Airtel money agents etc,” said Bugonzi.

Neighbors

In comparison with neighboring countries like Rwanda and Tanzania where Airtel is also operating, governments have put in place strict laws on Telecom companies outsourcing different functions.

And of recent, MTN Rwanda was fined 7 billion francs ($8.5 million) for running its IT services outside the country in breach of its licence.

“They are punished for relocating their IT services outside Rwanda, and this was deliberate,” Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority Spokesman Anthony Kulamba said.

In Tanzania, President, Mr John Magufuli also abolished the remote log in by GDC into Airtel Tanzania Network.

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