Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) President Churchill Otieno and Media Owners Association Chairman Wachira Waruru.

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A media house should brace itself for a legal battle following its decision to sack some of its staff through short messages sent in the dead of night on the grounds of redundancies.

The more than 100 Mediamax Networks Limited employees who received the text messages from the company’s Human Resources department are said to have held a meeting with their lawyers after the company rehired new staff from rival media outlets to replace them.

“We are talking to our lawyers and will move to court soon to challenge the decision,” said Ken Bosire, who was serving as People Daily’s acting Managing Editor.

Took advantage

The Kenya Union of Journalists condemned the decision to sack the employees through the night text, saying it contravenes the law and best practices of the Labour and Employment Court that has previously ruled against similar cases.

Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) President Churchill Otieno said the industry was concerned with the developments at Mediamax.

“KEG is weighing the implications the redundancies have on public journalism as required by the Constitution. We will give a well-considered statement in due course,” Otieno said.

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Media Owners Association Chairman Wachira Waruru said there were legal avenues for dealing with such issues: “It is an individual company’s decision, and MOA has no position on this issue.”

KUJ Secretary General Eric Oduor said the company took advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to subject employees to an unfair labour practice, adding that if indeed the positions had to be declared redundant, the company ought to have followed due process.

“While we condemn this illegal labour practice, which the Constitution of Kenya outlawed in 2010, we demand that the company puts this exercise on hold to pave way for consultations to comply with the law,” Oduor said in a statement sent to newsrooms.

Mediamax, KUJ said, has made history as the first media company to make use of Section 40 of the Employment Act, along with Article 41 of the Constitution.

The section of the law only allows an employer to terminate a contract of service on account of redundancy after complying with conditions such as notifying the employee personally in writing and the labour officer, paying leave days due to the employee in cash and paying 15 days for each completed year of service.

In the SMS sent on Sunday night, the company’s HR manager Maureen Wandera stated that the redundancy notice issued on May 20 had expired, and invited them to a hotel in Kileleshwa to pick their letters.

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The employees were shocked to learn that they would not be paid their dues in lump sum, but they will instead endure the agony of receiving the same in instalments for 30 to 35 months (two and a half, to three years).

Why instalments?

“How can they pay us in instalments for those years when the law is clear on conditions to be met by the employer when terminating services on redundancy grounds,” said an affected employee.

When reached for comment, Mediamax CEO Ken Ngaruiya asked to be contacted via SMS, but did not respond to questions forwarded to him. The company’s Editor in Chief Eric Obino did not pick calls.

This came barely two weeks after the court ordered the company to respect existing contracts and pay 164 employees their accrued April and May salaries in full.

The court ordered that the employees go on redundancy per law and prevailing contracts, and the said contracts of service between the parties be preserved with no pay cuts.