The manner in which employees affected by the latest retrenchment at Mediamax Networks Ltd, owned principally by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, were notified has left corporate Kenya and the media industry in shock.
Workers unlucky enough to be on the Mediamax to-go list were notified of their fates through an SMS on Sunday night by various human resources managers, ruining the weekend for the men and women who have been playing a part in running this company.
Long list of victims
In one message, human resources manager Maureen Wandera was the bearer of the bad news. “I am contacting you with regards to the redundancy notice issued on 21st of May 2020,” Ms Wandera writes in one of the texts reviewed by Business Today.
“The notice period has expired. Unfortunately your position has been affected by way of redundancy. I would like to invite you to Emory Hotel in Kileleshwa tomorrow, Monday 22nd at 8:55am to discuss what this means to your employment. When you get to the hotel kindly ask for me. We thank you for your indulgence and cooperation in this matter.”
Another message was sent by a HR manager who identified himself as Robert. It must have been a long night for the victims of the layoff as the clock ticked to Monday 8am, when the management begins to engage them over the sacking.
In what is being described in media circles as “a night of massacre”, Mediamax has pushed out over 100 employees in its second round of restructuring in less than a year. In the October 2019 lay-off, the company sacked 160 employees.
Business Today has been informed that this time round Mediamax has deepened the cut, sweeping most departments clean, including K24 and People Daily, which have borne the brunt of the restructuring. The list of those affected is long, according to sources, but we have managed to get some names.
Those who got the dreaded text message at K24 include, among others, Kiswahili news anchor Nancy Onyancha (she broke the news on her Instagram), Job Mwaura assignments/Swahili Editor, Ken Wariahe (Swahili Anchor and Editor), Isabella Kituri (Anchor/Swahili Editor), Caroline Wambui (acting Managing Editor), Shukri Wachu (Education/Crime Reporter), Apollo Kamau (Political Reporter), Mercy Milanoi (Business Reporter), Joy Kiruki ( Features Editor), Gloria Milimu (Health Reporter) and Kimani Githuku (reporter). Others are Features Reporter Dennis Matara, Sports anchor Tony Kwalanda as well as Fred Indimuli (9pm News Anchor/Editor).
They will be replaced by new recruits poached from Switch TV and TV47 set to premier of K24. The TV station has kept observers guessing over its game plan especially with talk of a merger with its rival KTN.
On the print side, which runs the People Daily newspaper, one of the biggest casualties is Managing Editor Ken Bosire. A number of journalists attached to PD’s various desks have also been fired, including Revise Editor Patrick Wachira.
Dark cloud on media
The Mediamax sackings have cast a dark cloud on the media industry reeling under squeezed conditions complicated by Covid-19 outbreak and set the tempo for other media companies. Standard Group has issued redundancy notice but has not been bold enough to pull the trigger. Nation Media Group, which recently issued a profit warning, and Royal Media Services are fine-tuning their lay-off plans and expected to make the move soon. Both have implemented staff pay cuts of between 5% and 30%.
The Mediamax sackings are a culmination of a standoff between management and 164 journalists who opposed a Covid-19 instigated 50% pay cut and even moved to the labour court. Last week the labour relations court handed the employees victory, ruling that they should earn their full salaries as the company restructures.
On Friday, at a staff meeting held at its DSM head officers, tension exploded into frustration, leading to a casual but bitter exchange between the CEO Ken Ngaruiya and some members of staff seeking specific information on the planned layoff. But Mr Ngaruiya was economical with information, only saying those affected would be informed. Two days later, he has honoured the promise.
Internal sources who understand Mediamax sackings affair indicate that most of the employees fired include those who signed the petition to oppose the pay cut announced on 18th April to keep the company afloat during the Covid-19 economic slowdown.
Already, Betty Kyalo quit her job as K24 weekend presenter recently, without giving reasons, but it is believed she chose to leave earlier after she got word that she had been earmarked for the sack.
Mediamas is also on the spotlight after the Kenya Revenue Authority flagged it for possible tax evasion. The taxman’s investigators are combing through the company’s payroll and accounts after Pay As You Earn (PAYE) returns for some 70 employees reflected discrepancies.
More updates to follow…