2 October 2018

Namibia: NBC Gets N$20 Million to End Strike

The information ministry yesterday gave the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation N$20 million to be used for the salary dispute settlement to enable the workers to resume their duties.

The workers embarked on a work stoppage on Friday, ahead of the second national land conference which opened in Windhoek yesterday.

Information minister Stanley Simataa and finance minister Calle Schlettwein confirmed the payment to the NBC yesterday.

Simataa said the N$20 million is not a bailout, but was part of the funding the broadcaster is supposed to receive from the government.

The government, he added, appreciates the fact that the NBC has been underfunded for the past few years, and that the financial woes they find themselves in are a result of that underfunding.

"We have said it all along that the NBC has been underfunded. What we provided has been below what they need to operate efficiently," Simataa stressed.

Schlettwein said treasury provided the money so that the NBC could pay the workers who are owed 18 months' backpay on a salary increase agreed in April last year.

The finance minister said the N$20 million is not being considered as a bailout as it was taken from the information ministry's budget for this financial year.

The Namibia Public Workers Union's secretary general, Petrus Nevonga, and NBC director general Stanley Similo signed the agreement yesterday so that the workers can receive 18 months' backpay as per the 6% salary increase agreed in April 2017.

Nevonga said the workers deferred the industrial action to tomorrow after the agreement, while they wait for the NBC to transfer the money into their accounts.

By late yesterday, the workers had gone back to work, although some of them complained that the broadcaster had used a skeleton staff complement to cover the conference in breach of the agreed strike rules.

President Hage Geingob during his address at the opening of the conference thanked the NBC for broadcasting the event live, and accused striking workers of disruption and attempting to sabotage the conference. He also accused the striking employees of having hidden agendas, hence they chose to go on strike during the land conference.

While Similo maintained that there was nothing wrong with the broadcaster going live during the strike, the workers said the broadcast was a violation of one of the strike rules which stated that management must not make use of non-striking employees to carry out the work of striking workers.

Similo said during the signing of the agreement that he was pleased that the management and the workers could reach an agreement, and that the 'switch-off' which happened during the strike was a lesson for all stakeholders about the broadcaster's funding model.

"There is [something] fundamental[ly] wrong with the funding model for the NBC. I hope that this is a lesson for those who have to take care of us," he said.

Similo said the agreement which was signed yesterday only addressed the 6% salary increase issue, and that they are still attending to the workers' other demands, such as the pension fund payments and other benefits.

The director general said they have already communicated with advertisers and clients, and that they are working on redeeming whatever losses were incurred.

They would thus be flighting adverts as soon as they are back on air, and offer extra airtime as compensation.

"What we will do is if a client paid for three adverts, we would give them extra adverts," Similo said.

The Namibian could, however, not establish how much the broadcaster lost during the strike.

Some striking workers yesterday told The Namibian that they were caught by surprise when they saw proceedings at the land conference being broadcast live, while 'switching off' was part of their strike.

"They are traitors. The whole point was for the impact to be felt when there would be no broadcast of the conference," one of the striking workers said.

The workers also expressed displeasure with the manner in which their union leader Nevonga addressed them, saying he was threatening them to heed to the demands of management, instead of fighting for their rights.

The workers and their union leader could not agree on where they should be addressed on the terms of the agreement, leading to Nevonga signing the agreement on behalf of the workers without consulting them.

"We will wait and see if the money is paid. If not, we will resume the strike on Wednesday," another worker who declined to be named, said.

NBC chief human resources officer Vezenga Kauraisa told The Namibian yesterday that the 6% would increase the broadcaster's wage bill that is currently about N$8,2 million by N$624 000 per month.

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