Business

EXCLUSIVE: Ooredoo Algeria Has Denied Laying Off 900 Workers But The Situation Is Still Mired In Controversy


March 11, 2020

It’s not everyday in Africa that you hear of a multinational company laying off workers in such rather perturbing numbers. Such stories usually drive up the wall given the hellish unemployment and skill shortage challenges in the continent. The company that unceremoniously steals the spotlight in this edition of Cataclysmic Human Resources is Ooredoo Algeria, which is a branch of an international telecommunications company headquartered in Doha, Qatar.

Recapturing The Synopsis

Late last month, WeeTracker gave what could be called a tip of the iceberg by reporting that about 900 Algerian staff working with this arm of the business were being laid off.

While this could be one of the highest-ever number of workers intended to be given the boot perhaps in any part of Africa, no reasons were given for the move—or plan as the case may be. 

The name that echoed throughout the halls of this HR crisis was Nikolai Beckers, a German-born consecutive leader who was as of then the CEO of Ooredoo Algeria.

The executive started occupying the head seat in August 2019, after having the same CEO stint at Azerbaijan-based mobile network provider, Backell. 

Less than a year after this role assumption, the powers-that-be in Algeria—under the pilotage of President Abdelmajid Taboun—bought an order to expel Beckers from the country.

For an exec with some 20 years of experience and a degree in Business Administration from Germany’s University of  Köln, the narrative is an unhealthy blend of interesting and burdensome. 

Separating Fact From Fiction

Numerous reports on the issue maintained that 900 staff were actually laid off by Ooredoo Algeria despite an impressive annual turnover of USD 1 Bn. However, there is no clear evidence that this was the case. Inasmuch as there was trouble in paradise for the Algerian workers, we were not able to find anyone who was affected by the layoff.

There are also signs of turmoil on the part of the North African country’s workforce on social media, apart from concerns raised regarding the expulsion of Beckers.

Sources close to the matter make us understand that Beckers was approached in his office by some Public Security Forces Authority officials on February 19 and was escorted to the airport to get on the next flight out of Algeria.

Nikolai Beckers: businesselitesafrica.com

President Taboun received what could have been a confidential letter from the union of  workers in Ooredoo, giving the low-down of Beckers’ “supposed” plans to relieve 900 workers of their duties. 

If pedigree is anything to go by, the Algerian President has proven himself to be a radical and no-nonsense leader. Since his assumption in office, he has shown a desire to change the direction of Algerian diplomacy to strongly express an independence of foreign influences.

The leader is also pretty upfront about dispelling the myth that Algeria was a part of a certain shrewd alliance that includes Turkey and Qatar. 

So, Which Is Fact?

Ooredoo Algeria’s stance on the matter seems to be pretty solid now judging from the fact that they appeared just as shocked by Beckers’ sudden expulsion from the country.

Logically, this would be someone whose services would have cost them at least a little close to a fortune being that the German national has been in the telco game since the turn of the 2000s. In response to WeeTracker’s queries, Ooredoo said that none of the workers were laid off. 

“Nikolai Beckers is in Doha, and continues to be employed by Ooredoo. We have now appointed Bassam Al Ibrahim as Deputy General Director of Ooredoo Algeria, who assumed office on March 1, 2020.

Ooredoo has been a positive force in Algeria—being the first to launch 4G nationally and bring it to all 48 Wilayas. We have recently announced plans for significant investments in the country, and therefore remain fully committed to our Algerian customers, employees and partners”. 

Ooredoo Algeria would not respond to WeeTracker’s further questions, but sources close to the matter—whose identities are being kept backstairs—say that Ooredoo Algeria has some sort of mixed reputation in the Arab-speaking country.

Among many other back-fence talks, it is speculated that the telco is one of the many means by which the high and mighty in Qatar cajole the governments of countries in which it operates. Unsureness beclouds this claim but the actions of the Algerian government towards businesses from Qatar carries some testimony.

A Track Record Of Bickering

One of the most obvious involvements in diplomatic and underhanded entanglements between Ooredoo and the Algerian Presidency can be found in its dealings with the Algerian Football Association.

The company, as we’ve learned, crossed red lines in 2014 by transforming its funding of the association to impose over control over the country’s national soccer team. 

Ooredoo Algeria made known that the team was to be hosted in its headquarter country Qatar by the Qatari channel beIN Sports. This was shortly after the team’s partaking in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the high and mighty in Algeria only allowed three players to make that trip to Doha.

The lack of trust and a host of suspicions could have led up to this. But the telco’s ordeal with the Algerian authorities did not end there. 

After the hosting conundrum in the Qataris capital of Doha, the Algerian Football Association decided to sever ties with the firm—an arrangement which terminated Ooredoo’s sponsorship with the association.

From there on out, the reputation of Ooredoo in Algeria started to gradually decline, which made Qatar’s diplomatic clout in the country to hang back and diminish. 

Nevertheless, Ooredoo seemingly remains committed to Algerian football as it signed a sponsorship agreement with the Entente Sportive de Sétif (ESS) on Thursday 04 October 2018 at its headquarters in Algiers.

The Love-Hate May Continue

The resistance to negative foreign influence is not something that started with President Taboun. His predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, also caused a stir in Algerian circles of business and international relations.

During his administration, Ooredoo’s sponsorship for the Algerian football team was truncated and bestowed upon the nation’s state-owned Mobilis—a subsidiary of Algérie Télécom, one of the three major mobile operators in Algeria.  

Bouteflika’s strides compounded with that of his successor creates a strong brick wall against international influences. Ooredoo Algeria may have not actually sent 900 workers home, but their reputation in Algeria alongside a heads-up was enough reason for the government to take action.

Immediately Becker’s expulsion happened, the group said its Board of Directors launched an investigation into the allegations but nothing else has been heard since. 

The decision to deport Beckers adds some more degrees to the cold relations between Algeria and Qatar. The current Emir of Qatar, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was supposed to visit the country, an expectancy which Algerian media happily reported. But the presidency expressed its dissatisfaction regarding the dissemination of the information.

Image Courtesy: Hsoting Journalist

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