Erick Oduor KUJ Secretary General
Kenya Union of Journalists, led by Secretary General Eric Oduor (above), has been unsuccessfully seeking audience with Mediamax top management.

Mediamax Networks Ltd, the media house principally owned by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, has set itself up for battle with the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) after rejecting a proposal to allow its journalists to join the union.

KUJ has, for some time now, been reaching out to Mediamax management over unionization of journalists, which would give them a stronger say on their terms of service, but is always treated to a cold shoulder.

The latest attempt was through a letter dated 18th August 2021 in which KUJ Secretary General, Mr Eric Oduor, made a follow-up on the issue, explaining that having an “active partnership with media houses” is key to sustenance of safe spaces for journalistic work and advancement of democracy.

“We, have in this regard, previously made several attempts to establish this relationship vide several letters, and to explain the fact of membership of most of your employees to the Union and to commence negotiations for terms of a recognition agreement,” Mr Oduor says in the letter to the CEO of Mediamax Network, Mr Ken Ngaruiya. “None of our letters, have, however, elicited a response from you.  In the circumstances, it is our assumption that you have no objection to the membership of your employees of all cadres to the union membership.”

Mediamax runs the free People Daily newspaper, K24, Kameme TV and a host of radio stations, and employs over 200 journalists. KUJ says some Mediamax journalists had signed but the management has been blocking them.

In the letter seen by Business Today KUJ registers its concern about the situation at Mediamax where, it notes, since the media house effected a reduction of employee’s salaries by up to 50% in the course of last year in the heat of Covid-19 pandemic, journalists’ working conditions have severely deteriorated. Other media houses like Nation Media Group and Standard Group, which cut staff pay by between 20% and 50%, have since reverted to full salaries.

“It is our considered view that this is a matter that must be addressed with the urgency it deserves,” KUJ says, and asks for a meeting with management to discuss the matters and steps in concluding a recognition agreement.

In response, however, Mr Ngaruiya takes a confrontational tone, even threatening to get a court injunction to bar KUJ from meddling in the media house’s affairs. “Please note that we do not have proof that you have met the threshold for a recognition agreement and in the circumstances we have no obligation to respond to your allegations,” Mr Ngaruiya writes in his response dated 24th August 2021.

It is not clear why the CEO assumes the negative attitude given that joining a union is one of the basic labour rights in Kenya. But from the letter, Mr Ngaruiya is unapologetically fed up with KUJ’s overtures.

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“With due respect, we have on several occasions advised you that we do not have any members of your union in our organization which information is well within your knowledge,” he says. “We note with great exception that the constant interference with the affairs of our organization amounts to unwarranted harassment/ threat and hereby give you notice that we shall move the Court for the necessary orders stopping you further interference.”

It will be interesting to see who blinks first since KUJ is also weighing the option of moving to court, as well, to compel Mediamax to give its employees freedom to join the union. “Kindly note that if we do not hear from you within the next Fourteen (14) days,” Mr Oduor says, “we shall proceed to commence legal proceedings to enforce the aforesaid matters.”

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