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M-Tel shuts mobile network over salary dispute

Unpaid salaries at troubled operator leads to industrial action

Employees at M-Tel, a troubled mobile operator in Nigeria, shut off the company's mobile network and call centres in protest against unpaid salaries owed to them by Transcorp, which holds a controlling stake in the company.

The move affects the entire 200,000-strong subscriber base; an M-Tel spokesman said there were no regrets from workers.

"The management of M-Tel and Transcorp are not forthcoming in matters related to workers, that is why we have no other option then to embark on the strike action," said Auwalu Sulaiman, president of the senior staff association of communication, transport and corporations, M-Tel branch.

Sulaiman said his group met with Transcorp officials, however no resolution appeared in sight. Earlier in the week, their counterparts at Nigerian Telecommunications (Nitel) threatened similar industrial action on the company's fixed-line network, saying it would shut the company's central exchange in Abuja if Transcorp did not pay out five months of owed salaries. However, Transcorp reportedly reached an agreement with Nitel labour unions.

M-Tel is the smallest mobile operator in Nigeria, in terms of subscriber base, with just over 200,000 users. The operator held a monopoly on the market until 2001 and has since been fraught with problems surrounding Transcorp's inability to pay for staff salaries and upgrade its infrastructure. According to a Nigeria industry report by Business Monitor International (BMI) published in December, both Nitel and M-Tel are far behind their rivals, MTN Nigeria, Globacom and Celtel.

"M-Tel is becoming increasingly irrelevant," BMI said in the report. "Both Nitel and its mobile unit M-Tel have been under-performing as a result of poor management and corruption, as well as out-of-date equipment."

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