The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation has been given until next week to respond to staff wage demands, or risk the nation staring at dark screens.
Almost 100 NBC employees staged a demonstration outside the state broadcaster's gates in Windhoek's Northern Industrial Area yesterday, and demanded an audience with representatives of the NBC board.
The striking staff refused to hand their petition to the broadcaster's management yesterday, saying they would continue with their demonstration every day until next week, or until they've met with the board.
NBC employees in the regions also demonstrated at their respective offices.
The broadcaster's employees are demanding a 6% wage increase and more than a year's backpay, as well as some benefits, including pension contributions, dating back to April 2017.
NBC shop steward Toucy Tjijombo said they would put down their tools if the NBC board, chaired by Sven Thieme, does not address them before next Wednesday.
She said they have agreed to forfeit their benefits in order to get their backpay, but the NBC was not heeding their demands.
"We told them to pay us as per the agreed 6%, and our backpay from April 2017, but they have not done that. Since they told us that there was no money, we agreed that we are giving up the benefits, but they must at least settle our backpay," she said.
Some employees who spoke to The Namibian on condition of anonymity said they are frustrated by their work conditions, and that the NBC was forcing them into debt by not honouring their deductions, such as "medical aid contributions, the pension fund and bank loans".
"We are being deducted money for those contributions, but we often get orders from those companies that we have not paid our contributions. Where is the money going?" asked an employee.
"They are telling us that there is no money, but they keep expanding production in some areas, recruiting new people and spending a lot of money on unnecessary training that does not really add value," charged the employee.
The Namibian understands that the NBC contracted former broadcasting guru Norah Appolus to train NBC and Namibia Press Agency reporters, as well as officials of the information ministry. Sources said Appolus was being paid N$1 000 per hour for seven hours of training, over ten-day training periods. This translates to about N$70 000 over ten days.
Other employees also raised concern over plans to transform the NBC news service into a 24-hour service. The NBC was supposed to launch a 24-hours news service on Friday, 1 June 2018. However, this failed to take off due to unspecified delays.
NBC director general Stanley Similo this week told The Namibian that plans to transform the broadcaster into a 24-hour news service was a "work in progress, and is managed on a project basis".
Similo added that the Appolus training programme was initiated to enhance capacity for the planned 24-hour news service.
"It is exactly against that background that we have started focusing on enhancing that as an ongoing process. We have already started implementing some of those activities into our current running of our news as a way of moving towards that route," he said.
NBC human resources manager Vazenga Kauraisa yesterday said some employee benefits, as well as the 6% salary increase, have not been implemented because of financial challenges at the broadcaster.
He added that the NBC would not recruit new employees for the 24-hour news service, but would only "rearrange the company's operations without employing anyone".
"I cannot deny that some payments are not done, but all that I am saying is that the financial situation in the country has resulted in us standing here," he said.
Kauraisa confirmed that no study was done to determine the financial viability and implications of the 24-hour news service.
Last year, the NBC had a budget of about N$345 million, despite their allocation from government being cut by half over recent years. The broadcaster was allocated N$150 million in the current financial year.
Kauraisa yesterday could not reveal how much the NBC spent on the salaries and benefits of employees. The Namibian reported last year that the NBC used employee medical aid deductions to pay salaries.