A major showdown is building up at Mediamax, the media house co-owned by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, after the management issued a notice reducing staff salaries by up to 50%.
Responding to what it describes as a drop in business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the company has taken a number of measures to stay afloat, key among them pay cuts for all carder of employees.
The big casualties
Besides implementing preventive measures such as social distancing and hand-washing guidelines, the most punitive is the reduction of between 20% and 50% on gross monthly pay based on job levels effective April 2020.
“We have come up with several measures to ensure that we try to sustain and ensure that the business at this stage survives and sustains itself,” Mediamax acting CEO Ken Ngaruiya says in an internal circular dated 17th April 2020.
“Amongst the proposed measures that will directly apply to employees will be a reduction of between 20% and 50% on Gross Monthly Pay based on job levels effective April 2020.”
The circular was released late evening, as rumours went around over the expected pay cuts. Moments after the announcement, a section of K24 journalists protested the move and vowed not to sign letters confirming the reduction, journalists who spoke to BT said. Besides rejecting the letters, the journalists may have to directly seek legal redress to stop the company from slashing their salaries, but which would ruin their relationship with their employer.
Mediamax is among media companies that have suppressed union activities among its journalists, leaving majority of them under the whims of management. At Standard, the Kenya Union of Journalists has successfully sought an injunction against pay cuts for its members.
Mr Ngaruiya said Mediamax has recorded a steady decline in advertising revenue since the announcement of the first case of Corona Virus in Kenya on 13th March 20120. “Our clients have been adversely affected and within a short span of time have had to make difficult decisions regarding their employees and their businesses including cancellation of their communication and advertising plans,” he said.
The highest pay cut in the Mediamax salary review of 50% targets high-earning employees and will hit some of its top presenters in radio and TV as well as senior newspaper editors, who earn six to seven-figure salaries. The biggest casualties will include Editorial Director Peter Opondo, People Daily Managing Editor Eric Obino as well as TV presenter Betty Kyalo and Anne Kiguta, who signed up big deals to join K24.
Comedian and Milele FM morning show presenter Felix Odiwuor aka Jalang’o and his colleague Alex Mwakideu will also see their salaries drop massively. Betty Kyalo, currently the TV queen at DSM House, and Ann Kiguta survived a recent restructuring in which 160 employees were fired, including top TV and radio presenters.
The unprecedented ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on all businesses and especially on media companies which heavily on advertising revenue.
Media industry trends
Already, Standard Media, Radio Africa Group and Royal Media Services have announced pay cuts backed with resting non-essential employees and functions. Nation Media Group, which has implemented a work-at-home strategy and sent a good number of employees on leave, is also expected to announce pay cuts in the coming days.
“We shall review the situation once normalcy resumes based on revenue, cashflow and the state of the business going forward,” Mr Ngaruiya says, an indication the Medimax salary review is temporary. “Due to reduced level of operations due to the COVID 19 pandemic it has become necessary to request staff whose services are not required during this period to proceed immediately on leave.”