The Guardian June 13, 2001


One.Tel workers get showbags

by Andrew Jackson

One.Tel bit the dust more quickly than expected, with most of its 1600 
staff sacked last Friday. No money left in the till to pay entitlements, 
company managers instead handed out "showbags" containing t-shirts, caps 
and umbrellas emblazoned with the dead company's logo.

Earlier in the day workers received a voicemail from One.Tel co-founder 
Brad Keeling, saying, "You should be proud of the work you've done, and 
when you leave here today it can be in the knowledge that you've done your 
very best".

"You can all walk out of here with your heads held high. My heartfelt 
thanks goes to all of you."

But warm words and new t-shirts provided little comfort to the staff, now 
unemployed and owed more than $19 million.

Workplace relations Minister Tony Abbott clearly showed where his loyalties 
lay on the weekend, saying that it was the shareholders, rather than the 
One.Tel workers who had suffered.

"One.Tel workers were quite well paid", he announced, surprising news no 
doubt to the 1600 workers who have not received a cent, and still have no 
solid guarantee of receiving their full entitlements.

Meanwhile, it was revealed last week that many of Mr Abbott's "poor 
shareholders", including senior One.Tel executives, were completely aware 
of the looming disaster, and managed to protect themselves by offloading 
their holdings.

Finance Director Mark Silbermann, who owned 4.62 million One.Tel shares in 
February, owned only 30,000 by the end of May.

Finance Executive Steven Hodgson offloaded 300,000 shares during that time, 
and Mobile Executive George Savva dumped over 450,000.

Rodney Adler, a former Director who left One.Tel recently, sold 9.4 million 
shares.

As for the "well-paid employees", it has also been revealed that One.Tel 
failed to make its compulsory superannuation payment in May, adding another 
$500,000 to what they are owed.

"This raises questions in our mind about what was known by senior 
management and directors prior to the appointment of the administrator", 
said Mr Stephen Jones of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

Mr Abbott has offered the One.Tel employees access to the Federal 
Government's employee entitlement scheme within a month, but this would 
only provide up to half of what they are owed.

And on top of the One.Tel employees, hundreds of other jobs are also 
expected to be lost in the next month, as companies owed money by One.Tel -
- including many small business mobile phone retailers  are expected to 
hit the wall.

In light of this, Labor leader Kim Beazley called on the Prime Minister to 
stand by those workers as well.

"Given that you took a one-off stand to support One.Tel's employees to work 
for their legal entitlements, what are you doing to ensure employees of 
One.Tel's creditors receive all of their entitlements?", he asked Mr 
Howard.

"Isn't your employee entitlements scheme inadequate in this case because it 
does not protect 100 per cent of employee's entitlements, it runs out of 
funding in two years time, it is funded by taxpayers not employers, and 
it's not established by legislation?"

Earlier this year Mr Beazley stated that "any scheme which meant that 
workers receive less than 100 per cent of the wages and other entitlements 
owing to them is inadequate.

Labor has promised that when it wins government, it will introduce an 
entitlements protection scheme at the earliest opportunity. The scheme 
would be funded by an increase in the Superannuation Guarantee payments 
made by companies with over 20 employees.

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