Namibia: The Namibian Eyes Retrenchment

The country's largest daily newspaper, The Namibian, will carry out retrenchments and renegotiate benefits with employees in a bid to contain costs and streamline its business.

The newspaper employs 110 people, an additional 20 people are on a contractual basis, and also employs freelancers.

Editor Tangeni Amupadhi yesterday said the desired costs to be cut should be at most 60%, and a minimum of 40%, according to financial analysts approached by the company.

He stressed that cutting costs is a must for the newspaper to survive, and one of the measures included cutting the newspaper's subscription with the Namibia Press Agency (Nampa).

Amupadhi said the process will include voluntary retirement for those above 55 years of age and other staff members who wish to volunteer, as well as benefit cuts for remaining staff members.

Remaining staff members would also have their salaries cut by 20% on average, depending on what the employee earns.

He said this week voluntary retrenchments will commence, including early retirement for employees over 55 years, and the mandatory retrenchment of redundant positions would be conducted next week.

Amupadhi said the financial squeeze has also affected the paper's print run and circulation figures. "Where are we going to cut? Printed newspaper copies have gone down from a peak of 78 000 in 2016, to 17 000 during lockdown and now we are at 28 000. However, the number of pages shows we are making no money," he said.

Amupadhi said the company is reconsidering its entire structure to be able to meet future needs and needs it should have adapted to already.

RESTRUCTURING

He said the restructuring process is complicated by an economy that is not getting anywhere - despite the government's optimism that the domestic economy would recover.

He said the restructuring is not simply to cut costs, but also to meet the needs of digitisation that calls for coders, software developers, videographers, video editors and data analysts to be employed.

As redundant positions fall away, new, relevant ones that are not on the current structure are created. Amupadhi said the company has tapped into its reserves since the country has been in a recession for the past four years, and president Hage Geingob's statement last week that companies that are retrenching should have ensured they have reserves is unfounded.

EMPLOYEES' VIEWS

Longtime reporter Werner Menges said it is unfortunate that The Namibian is finding itself in a difficult situation, which in turn requires hard decisions to be made.

He said unlike state-owned media, the company does not rely on government funding and bailouts with taxpayers' money, so it is understandable that this tough decision cannot be avoided.

"That said, I also think the newspaper has over the years proven itself to be a survivor through challenging times, and it is now our collective duty to ensure that it continues as a survivor into the future. With that, our main goal should stay unchanged: bringing quality news to our readers, and empowering them with information," Menges said.

Media designer Selma Tsei-tseimou said she considered the financial position the company is in and has approached the human resources department about early retirement.

She said she was aware of the financial crunch The Namibian is in, and was expecting decisions of such magnitude.

"I was expecting this to come, and of course my livelihood would change, but the company has been making losses for long," she said. A journalist at The Namibian, who spoke on condition anonymity, said cost-cutting measures were a given and were exacerbated by the Covid-19-imposed lockdown in addition to the recession the country has been in since 2016.

"Apart from that, we have had to deal with the digitisation factor, while we were mainly focused on print copy and getting revenue. These are all factors that led up to these decisions and they were expected - despite being very unfortunate," she said.

Business journalist Lazarus Amukeshe said the decisions are fair from a business point of view, although it is not always what is required.

Amukeshe said it is only fair that the restructuring benefits the company while it supports independent journalism.

"It is not a decision that would be welcomed by many, but it is necessary if we want to keep the paper up and running," he said.

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