At a time when the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) board announced that some striking workers returned to work and the strike should end, the representative union threatened to drag the broadcaster to court over alleged non-compliance with strike rules.
After nearly two weeks of workers being on protected industrial action, the NBC board on Friday issued a statement saying they are adamant the strike should end, as some workers continue to abandon the strike and return to work.
NBC board chairperson Lazarus Jacobs said the board and management applauded the staff who remained at work, while also thanking those striking employees who have decided to return to work in order to serve the Namibian nation diligently.
He explained that when the strike started, 67 employees opted not to strike. By Friday, the staff members who returned to work stood at 141.
“The board is adamant that the strike should end, and this can only happen if all parties come together to find workable solutions. It is still the board’s position that there won’t be any winners with this strike. Currently, National FM is back on air, and as more striking employees return to work, the rest of live broadcasting will follow. The returning striking employees are welcomed with open arms, without being subjected to intimidation and/or harassment,” Jacobs said.
Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu) head of operations, Gideon Thomas briefed the striking workers on Friday, and contrastingly said due to non-compliance with strike rules by the broadcaster, the union would seek legal recourse.
“I promised that we were going to put up a battle against the non-compliance of striking rules by the NBC. This includes the fact that the NBC uses a so-called automated system, and the fact that the NBC wants to rely on volunteers and people who did not strike. The system will not run without the people who run it, especially technical and knowledgeable people who run the system. They are out there convincing them through such heavy-handed means, not really politely, so that they can come back and broadcast. As a result, we have gone out. We are preparing to take the employer to court to interdict this non-compliance with the striking rules. We are at an advanced stage to make sure the case is made out,” he charged.
However, he reminded the affected workers that taking someone to court is a procedural aspect, where the lawyer files the case with the High Court, and the respondent is still given room to respond.
According to Thomas, the union wrote a letter to the conciliator on Thursday, who was willing to see both parties after hours, but the NBC was not available.
“When the NBC said it’s available after having a board meeting [Friday], the conciliator was not going to be available until Monday [today]. So, if we are not in court on Monday morning, we will probably be back at conciliation. We are in the process of ensuring that this aspect of non-compliance is addressed,” he added.
He urged the workers to be patient while the union looks forward to making sure that what is due to the members gets to the members. “If the NBC found money for management, we want them to find money for everyone else. We want the national leaders to know that this gap we are creating here with no broadcasting is creating room for black marketers to disturb NBC’s market”, the unionist said.
Jacobs said the strike situation still remains unresolved due to the reduction of the government subsidy from N$334.1 million to N$127.5 million for the current financial year.
“This resulted in a 62% cut in subsidy. The main focus at this stage is to secure jobs as opposed to salary increases during these difficult and trying times. The board of directors would like to reiterate its call for all workers to return to work as they are risking losing their much-needed income due to the ‘no work no pay’ principle as part of the strike rules,” he reasoned.
Jacobs said despite the challenging economic climate, a once-off payment offer was made to the employees within the bargaining unit amounting to N$7.6 million, which was initially rejected.
He added that the NBC is at this stage seized with finding funds that would ensure that the broadcaster could function as a going concern.
“Industrial action at this juncture linked to wage increases won’t solve our challenges, given that the 62% cut in subsidy as announced by the Ministry of Finance denotes a N$206 million annual reduction in subsidy, compared to the N$334.1 million allocated in the previous financial year (2020/21),” he argued.
Jacobs said the financial situation of the national broadcaster is so dire that during April 2021, only the net pay of all employees could be honoured with the N$6.1 million tranche payment of government, together with own generated revenue.
The NBC is unable to honour any of its statutory obligations such as pensions, medical aid and other trade payables. These current debts amount to N$30 million to date, and are accumulating interest and penalties.
Therefore, Jacobs reiterated that the current financial situation is untenable and the liquidity risk of the business is extremely high, which could possibly lead to a situation hampering normal operations as well as jeopardise the possibility to continue as a going concern.