Mogadishu — The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) today raised grave concern following the announcement by Nairobi-based Radio Bar Kulan to its staff that they will relocate their operation as from October 2012 to Mogadishu.
"We condemn the disgraceful manner in which this announcement was made which raised the anxiety of staff and made them uncertain about their future," said Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of NUSOJ. "In the eyes of Somali journalists, such an announcement makes them stand as an irresponsible employer, perhaps far worse than other non-Somali news media organisations".
According to staff members of NUSOJ, UK based Company Albany Associates, which run the Radio Bar Kulan with UN funding informed more than 15 journalists working in Nairobi as news anchors, producers and editors that they would move them to Mogadishu. RBK journalists informed NUSOJ that they were warned that there would be reduction of their current salaries.
"It is outrageous that a company that claims to have a duty of care for its staff treats them in this manner without due regard for their labour rights, or negotiations with the union representing them." added Osman.
Advice received by the union from Kenya trade unions officials points out that RBK may be in breach of the 2007 Kenya's Employment Act as Albany Associates reportedly told staff that if they don't move, their contracts will be terminated and they will be made redundant. The Act compels employers wishing to make redundancies to notify in advance the union to which the employee is a member and the labour officer in charge of the area where their employment. This ought to have been done in writing for each employee. However RBK management decided to ignore the union and make a verbal announcement at a general staff meeting.
Journalists at the RBK offices in Nairobi have written contracts, though there are issues of their conformity with the labour law of Kenya. As the employment contracts of these journalists were expiring, these journalists received letters extending their contractual arrangements with Albany Associates to work for RBK.
NUSOJ received copies of these extension letters, issued last year 2011, from its members in the station, and clearly state: "the renewal of the IST/UNSOA contract will be effective from some point early in the year.
Until then our contracts will continue under current terms and conditions, until longer term contracts can be issued". The letter adds: "We will issue longer term contracts as soon as the IST/UNSOA contract allows".
Since these extension letters, journalists at RBK informed NUSOJ that no "longer contract" was given them and astonishingly received the news of the move to Mogadishu.
RBK journalists in Nairobi are also worried about those who will be declared redundant because, without negotiations with the union, there will be no due regard to seniority and to the skill, ability and reliability of each employee, and the whole exercise may be used against those members of staff that the management wanted an excuse to get rid off. Albany Associates have been accused earlier by some of their journalists of failing to secure works permits for their employment - this will now help them avoid their legal responsibility.
NUSOJ says that RBK journalists also fear that the move may put their lives in danger as the radio station is considered by Al-Shabaab extremists group and a significant section of Somali society as a propaganda machine. Albany Associates have so far given no details of their plan to protect their journalists after the move.
"Facts and figures speak for themselves. But Albany Associates is now in the habit to lash out at the union whenever it raises concerns regarding their violation of labour rights. How long will they continue in a state of denial," said Osman. "If their claim of support for their staff is to be taken seriously then they must at least respect and implement local labour laws and international labour standards, instead of wasting their time and resources in justifying the unjustifiable."
Albany Associates have so far refused to recognise and negotiate with the legitimate representative of staff, the National Union of Somali Journalists, and instead use unashamedly a former employee of the union to whitewash their action. This cooperation, which has been claimed by Albany to be within the law of the country, is based on what turned out to be a false letter written by Somalia's former disgraced Deputy Attorney General who was sacked by the President of the Transitional Federal Government Sheik Sharif Sheik for power abuse, gross ethical misconduct, extortion and subsequently charged and convicted to almost all charges and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.
NUSOJ warns the donor community to be careful about the claims made by Albany Associates and to rigorously scrutinise their record as they renew their efforts to seek new funds for their operation.
"With a proven record of such evident human and labour rights abuses, it is inconceivable that this company can show fictitious picture to attract funds from donors, " said Osman. "Stringent conditions must be attached to any new funding given to Albany Associates to continue running RBK and it must include full respect and protection of human and labour rights, including the right to freedom of association, decent salaries and conditions of employment for RBK journalists".
NUSOJ has pledged it will continue its campaign to expose labour rights violations by RBK by mobilising the journalists' and wide trade union movement to campaign against their deplorable labour practices.
Some 17 correspondents are working for the Radio station in Somalia in two categories:
1) Those who operate in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas are called by the producers from RBK offices in Nairobi who write down their stories, which they later read on air. Correspondents who have internet/computer access write their news reports and send them by e-mail to RBK offices in Nairobi. The salary for this grade is US$550 dollars and they work without written contracts.
2) Those who operate in areas not controlled by Al-Shabaab. They prepare reports and send their recorded voices to RBK, so they are not hidden.
These journalists are paid US$600 and they work without written contracts.