Strike Triggers News Blackout

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By Anna Shilongo

WINDHOEK

Namibian Broadcasting Corporation Director General, Bob Kandetu, says despite NBC, Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu) and workers’ representatives agreeing in principle on a salary increase, the Board had disagreed citing lack of funds.

He said the State broadcaster that formulated a new business plan and has since submitted it to the Ministry of Finance, begged Napwu for more time but this has been in vain.

He said the top NBC management requested the union to give the corporation two more weeks “but they disagreed and they decided to declare a strike”.

Yesterday hundreds of placard-wielding NBC workers took to the streets chanting slogans against their boss, Kandetu, saying his days are numbered as they downed tools plunging the nation into a news blackout.

“Down, down, down, your days are numbered Bob Kandetu,” chanted the workers who congregated at the NBC’s head office as they downed tools demanding a pay rise.

“The NBC employees have decided to take a common stand against the evil called the NBC, with its most ardent dictators, its management and board,” said Gabes Andumba, the deputy secretary general of the Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu).

The striking workers, angry over the NBC’s failure to effect a six percent pay rise, demanded the immediate removal of Kandetu and his entire top management.

Napwu says the NBC owes its workforce an outstanding amount of nine percent across the board that should be backdated to 2003 but that has since been ‘ring-fenced’ as part of its business plan and this was worsened by the fact that the workers have not yet received a six percent salary and wage increase as already negotiated for 2007/2008.

“The Corporation is beset by incompetent management, no leadership whatsoever and an ever-increasing tendency of nepotism, favouritism and downright corrupt practices.

“Please help us to remove corrupt, lazy, late-comers, useless and don’t know mana-gers,” states a joint statement issued by Napwu and the NBC Shop Stewards Council.

But Kandetu in his reaction to these allegations said: “I did not employ or promote anybody unprocedurally. Everything was done according to procedure.”

Napwu and the striking workers are demanding the ‘immediate and unconditional’ payment of the successfully negotiated six percent increase;

the immediate and unconditional payment of the outstanding amount of nine percent across the board; the immediate resignation of the Director General and what they termed ‘incompetent management,’ the resignation of the entire NBC Board; the immediate ‘removal of the so-called financial consultant, who works half a day with a huge salary’.

Other demands made by Napwu are the rectification of pay discrepancies of workers, where some new employees are apparently getting more than experienced ones who have been with the corporation for a longer period and they further accuse NBC of having a policy of hire and fire.

The workers are saying they will continue with this strike until their demands are met adding: “Should they not be met, the NBC Management and Board should be held fully responsible for any losses that the Corporation” incurs.

Though the NBC insists it is constrained by a tight budget, the workers say it has previously spent money for its Board Chair, Ponhele ya Frans, to undertake an unnecessary trip and that it bankrolls ‘ghost workers’ while fully paying employees who are on extended suspensions pending disciplinary action.

The workers started demonstrating as early as 07h00 while others came to work at 06h00. No employees were allowed to enter NBC premises. They all stood outside the gate, singing liberation songs, waving placards and chanting slogans.

The deputy secretary general of Napwu said the protestors would continue until all their demands are met.

Speaking at the occasion, National Union of Namibian Workers Secretary General Evalistus Kaaronda said the union is in full support of the NBC strike.

“We will support the strike by all means, because this is a general strike, it’s not an illegal strike as the management stated recently. It is so disappointing to note that the NBC management had the guards to give false information to their lawyers to declare the strike illegal, shame on you,” said the disappointed Kaaronda.

He said it is high time that the Anti-Corruption Commission scrutinises the NBC.

“It should also be understood that the workers will down tools until their demands are met,” he stressed.

On the allegations that some people received full benefits while on prolonged suspensions, Kandetu said, “This is in accordance with the labour law. You cannot stop paying an employee who is on suspension. His salary needs to be paid like any other. The reason why they are on suspension is because investigations are still being carried out.”

Theofelus Karipi, the Human Resources Manager who received the petition on behalf of the DG said he would deliver the petition to the relevant authority.
All NBC services have been down since the strike began but some managers are running some of the radio service stations.

“To be honest with you, I will not give any interview to an antagonistic journalist like you. If you want an interview with me phone my secretary and I will tell you why I call you an antagonistic journalist. I am in a meeting right now,” said Kandetu.

Meanwhile New Era also tried to contact the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah but she was said to be out of town.

But her deputy Raphael Dinyando said: “The Ministry will comment at an appropriate time, not now. But we will keep you informed.”

Meanwhile, Anna Ingwafa reported that NBC employees at Oshakati yesterday also downed tools to join their counterparts in the nationwide strike.

When she visited NBC premises, most of the workers were still milling outside the building and members of the Namibian Police could be seen guarding the premises.

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