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Shame on Mediamax! Respect labour rights

It was the industry equivalent of a massacre. Conducted in the dead of night. Black Monday.

Mediamax on June 22 wiped out nearly its entire K24 TV newsroom, kicked out journalists from some of its radios and the country’s only free daily newspaper, People Daily.

The Kenya Union of Journalists described the action as “ill treatment” and “unfair termination of contracts disguised as redundancies”.

The employees were sacked through SMS and asked to collect the letters that terminated their contracts at a hotel in Nairobi, KUJ secretary general Eric Oduor fumed.

These are people who have for years made money for the company, raised its reputation among Kenyans; they proudly wore the company nametags and were probably told they were the Mediamax family.

And then they were chased out like stray dogs.

“The company has taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to subject employees to unfair labour practice, which includes unilateral introduction of pay cuts, withholding salaries and now unfair termination of contracts disguised as redundancies,” the Atwoli of scribes stated.

Reports said the sacked workers would wait for long to get their unpaid salaries.

Pulse Live Kenya can authoritatively report that on top of the pain of being fired, the K24 staff was left in tears after learning that their unpaid salaries and accrued dues would also be delayed for between two and three years once they sign the redundancy documents today,” the news website reported.

“The K24 staff has not been paid their salaries over the past three months and many were hoping that the monies would be paid at the point of contract termination, together with the accrued benefits.”

KUJ demanded that the sacking be rescinded or the union would launch “the mother of all legal battles” against Mediamax.

Throughout the week, some of the sacked journalists shared on social media their disappointment with their employer. This is understandable. To be fired amidst the current pandemic when one is unlikely to get another opening is absolutely callous.

The BBC’s Ian Wafula tweeted: “Thinking about my former colleagues over @K24Tv this morning. Some very talented and dedicated people let go in the most undignified manner. The entire newsroom.”

This month, Mediamax workers obtained a court order stopping the company from imposing arbitrary pay cuts. Last week’s sackings appear to be a punitive reaction to the workers’ court victory.

Immediately the workers were sacked, Mediamax announced replacements on K24 TV. That is not redundancy by any stretch of the imagination.

The Observer condemns the Mediamax sackings and offers our firm solidarity with the unfairly treated workers.

Media houses are human rights organisations. They draw their mandate from the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of Kenya. Media freedom and freedom of expression are constitutional guarantees.

Human rights are universal, non-hierarchical and indivisible. Labour rights are human rights. If a media house cannot respect labour rights, how can it purport to champion media freedom?

Shame on you, Mediamax!

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