The management of THISDAY Newspapers on Wednesday took a decision to dismiss 13 employees who issued a strike notice to the publication on Tuesday.
Premium Times reports that a top management staff within the company said Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman of Leaders & Company Limited, which runs THISDAY Newspaper titles and Arise TV Network wrote in an internal memo that the 13 journalists attached to its bureau in Abuja should be paid due salaries, but should be compelled to pay all outstanding debts they owed the company before their contracts are terminated.
“Please work out what each of them is owed including pensions, net off all debt to the company and terminate all the appointments with immediate effect,” the source quoted Mr. Obaigbena as saying in an internal memo addressed to the company’s acting head of human resources, Emmanuel Efeni. “This company has policies and will not be run in the village square.”
The sacked workers had in the Tuesday correspondence appealed to the paper’s management to clear backlog of salaries, a situation they said had left them unable to “meet our obligations both to our families and other responsibilities.”
Citing, amongst other concerns, “an abysmal disregard” of their contribution by the company’s management, the distressed workers warned the company of their resolve to embark on a week strike if their demands fell through.
“Should the management fail to pay us by Friday, June 10, 2016, we will have no option than to embark on a one-week warning strike from Sunday June 12, 2016 until June 19, 2016,” they wrote. “Please, note that an indefinite strike will ensue at the expiration of the warning strike.”
In the notice, which was collectively-signed by Tobi Soniyi, Olawale Ajimotokan, Patrick Ugeh, Senator Iroegbu, James Emejo, Omololu Ogunmade, Paul Obi, Ndubusi Francis, Dele Ogbodo, Damilola Oyedele, Chineme Okafor, Godwin Omoigui and Onyebuchi Ezigbo, the workers said, “For several years, we have sacrificed everything – emotionally, physically and materially – to ensure the continued survival of THISDAY.”
But in his memo, our sources said, Mr. Obaigbena said the reporters “canvassed” for adverts for the newspaper which were not paid for, saying the nonpayment had contributed to the more than N1 billion the paper is being owed in revenues.
“For ethical and governance reasons, this should not have been the case,” our sources quoted Mr. Obaigbena as saying in his memo.
Another senior official of the company also echoed that position in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday.
The official, who also elected not to be named, said the matter was more about advertising revenues the reporters owed to the company than it was about their salaries.
“These people were going about bringing adverts to the company from individuals and companies who ended up being unable to pay,” the official said. “Up to N400 million is being owed the company now as a direct result of this.”
The official said the reporters acted against THISDAY’s long-standing policy that prohibited reporters and other members of the editorial staff from facilitating adverts for the company, saying the reporters flouted the rule because they had hitherto been able to circumvent any formal reprimand.
“For more than a decade, we had a rule in place that made it an offence for journalists to solicit adverts from people,” the source said. “They continued the practice because they’ve managed to escape being sanctioned until now.”
The source added that most of the journalists fired were owing the newspaper more than the salaries and allowances they complained of being owed.
For instance, a reporter is said to be owed N300,000 in unpaid salaries against about N890,000 the said individual owed the company. Another reporter is said to be indebted to the company up to the tune of N1.5 million while the company owed him far less than that.
The source also said the company uncovered how some of the reporters were allegedly running advert agencies, a situation he said had had an adverse effect on the output of the company’s marketing department.
“We’ve learnt how many of our journalists registered as advertisers in order to take adverts from businesses and earn huge commission,” the source said. “They then fail to remit advert revenues, leaving the company in difficult financial situation.”
In a follow up notice sent to the paper’s management early Wednesday, the journalists admitted to taken out adverts that were not paid for, but said that they did it to help bolster the company’s coffers.
“To accept that position will amount to punishment for helping the company to bring adverts and improve the company’s financial base,” one of the journalists said.
The reporter rejected the company’s decision to force them to make up for unpaid advert revenues, saying “Payment of adverts is not a precondition for salaries.”
The latest crisis came a few months after Mr. Obaigbena abruptly terminated the contracts of about half of the company’s employees in Lagos, following disputes about workers’ punctuality. It is unclear if Mr. Obaigbena reinstated any or all the dismissed staff.
On July 7, 2015, members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists
demonstrated outside the paper’s head office in Lagos, demanding immediate payment of their salaries and better working conditions
A few days later, the paper
commenced payment of the salaries owed.
Early last year, Nigeria’s National Industrial Court ruled that a former editor of the newspaper, Paul Ibe, was wrongly dismissed and awarded him up to N1 million in damages.