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The sacking of fifty i-Kiribati employees building new boat for Banaba


Taberannang Korauaba, The Kiribati Independent

Fifty employees of the Kiribati government owned company Betio Shipyard have been made redundant in a bid to keep the company going, according to The Kiribati Independent.

Last week, the management handed each employee with a cheque of AUD $3,500 as a redundancy package, which also marks the end of their working relationships with the company.
General Manager of Betio Shipyard, Mareweia Redfern, said the lay-off was made because the company has serious financial difficulties.

‘I hope you are all aware that the company has gone through dreadful times during the past few years and one of them was a fire that destroyed our buildings,’ he said.
Redfern said the redundancy was planned a long time ago.

He said management has a big plan to move the company to the next level but they can’t really do that because they have so many employees on their payroll with very little profits.
‘Every now and then, we received financial assistance from the government to help us get back on our feet. In addition, we have not arranged a loan from the bank or somewhere to improve our cashflow,’ he said.

Moote Utimaawa, one of the redundants, said he was deeply upset with the redundancy.
‘I know that something has to be done to keep the business going, but I’m not satisfied with how it’s being carried out,’ Moote said.

When asked about what he’s planning to do? He said ‘there’s nothing else I could do, my family and I are saving some money to pay for our boat fare to return to our home island.’

The former employee said he was the only breadwinner in his family consisting of his wife, four kids and several other family members. They are now living within the AUD$3,500 redundancy package.

To make things worse, the Housing Corporation has given Moote and his family three months to pack up their things and leave.

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Shipyard, David Yeeting said he understands the degree of difficulty redundancy has on the families but says ‘it has to be done for the sake of the company’.

‘I mean how can we pay our employees when we don’t have much profit?’ he asked.
The Chairman explained that the redundancy was primarily based on a survey by the State Owned Enterprises (SOE, the committee that responsible for monitoring the progress of all companies of the government).

Mr Yeeting said the overseas consultant proposed a number of recommendations in his report to Cabinet, and one of which was the removal of the Hardware division in the Shipyard.

He said there are other factors; ‘it could be a fire, but it’s more than that. When I first joined the board, I learned that the company has a lot of financial problems.’

He said one other major loss to the company was a deal with an overseas agent.

The Shipyard sent the order with cash to that agent. ‘The agent disappeared with that money like a ghost,’ he said. He did not disclose how much money was involved.

The Shipyard is a local building company specializing in the construction of boats for the local markets such as businesses and communities.

It currently has two big projects, to build one boat for the Island of Banaba and the other for Tabiteuea South.

The General Manager said that with 29 employees it is very likely that they would reap a fair return.

Meanwhile the chairman said a number of changes have been introduced to make Shipyard a viable industry in Kiribati. The first was an organizational chart of the company.

Of the fifty redundants, thirty nine are from the capital South Tarawa and eleven from the company’s branch on Kiritimati Island and the Line group.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication, Transport and Tourism Development, Tarsu Murdoch, said through her Personal Assistant she could not comment because she was very busy preparing her minister’s papers for the meeting of parliament.

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