Just Desserts – Reprise

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Last week, I wrote about how our parliamentarians have yet to embrace the roles and responsibilities which they were elected to perform. Everyone is so intent on getting into government – or staying put, once there – that they ignore most of the political tools available to them.

On Thursday last week, distracted by a looming no-confidence vote, Parliament passed dangerously flawed legislation amending the Employment Act. The changes included improvements in maternity leave, adjustments to employer liability when a staff member resigns on short notice and changes to the way annual leave accrues.

But what got every employer’s knickers in a knot was a change to how severance is handled. The rate of accrual was increased by 300%. Worse, every worker, no matter how short their employment or the circumstances of their departure, is to be eligible.

The outcry was immediate, irate and, occasionally, irrational. Many employers immediately sacked all their staff, paid out whatever severance was due and re-hired everyone, sometimes at reduced rates calculated to discount the increased severance. Others requested that their staff resign, avoiding severance payouts entirely.

Expat workers were needlessly affected. In spite of being ineligible for severance, employment offers were shelved, contractors were shuffled between companies, salaries cut. Businesses closed briefly to process the artificial staff turnovers.

None of this was necessary. Not now at least, and in some cases not ever.

Continue reading

Island Hopping

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Denis O’Brien, owner of the Digicel Group, graces the cover of the August 11th issue of Forbes Magazine. Their profile, titled ‘Babble Rouser’, begins with a tone of detached and vaguely supercilious astonishment at the risks that Digicel has incurred in the course of its lightning-quick expansion across the island nations of the world. It quickly sobers, though, when it reports that the Digicel Group earned $505 million in operating profit on $1.6 billion in revenue in the financial year ending March, 2008.

Forbes leaves it to O’Brien himself to explain his damn-the-torpedoes philosophy:

“Get big fast. [Damn] the cost. Be brave. Go over the cliff. [The competition] doesn’t have the balls.”

I suspect he used some word other than ‘damn’.

Most anyone would enjoy downing a beer with the honey-tongued chancer from Cork, but Denis O’Brien didn’t make the cover of Forbes merely because of a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude. He’s noteworthy because he saw an opportunity where others didn’t, and he got rich capitalising on it.

The idea is simple enough: If you give everyone – literally everyone – access to mobile services, you can make money everywhere. In O’Brien’s world, there is no such thing as low-hanging fruit. Every single market gets aggressively cultivated. The fruits of such labours are truly remarkable.

Continue reading