Monitor Publications Limited (MPL) recently laid off several employees in what the company said was part of a major staff restructuring exercise. Now 13 of the affected workers have filed a complaint for “unjustified, unfair and unlawful summary termination”.
The complaint, filed with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Labour Office in Makindye Division, states that MPL “terminated the services of the complainants on account of redundancy without genuine reasons, and without going through a full and fair consultation process with the complainants”.
The Nairobi-based Nation Media Group (NMG) owns a controlling stake in MPL, which runs Daily Monitor newspaper where the complainants worked. Other outlets include NTV, and the radio stations KFM and Dembe.
In March this year, NMG Uganda Managing Director Tony Glencross sent a letter to all staff announcing the restructuring as part of “cost-saving interventions to enable business continuity” in the face of the negative economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The complaint by the former staff further says that MPL did not disclose the criteria it used in reaching a decision to abolish some positions and concealed the reasons for selecting the complainants as unfit employees who had to be laid off.
The complaint, filed through the Centre for Legal Aid, accuses MPL of excluding “its liability to pay [the affected staff] due compensation for unfair dismissal, severance allowance and other accrued terminal benefits” by compelling them to sign a release deed as a precondition for their exit.
In his communication dated 25 March 2021, Mr Glencross said that the restructuring would result in a reduction in its workforce and that NMG Uganda would offer counselling services to those affected by the change as well as medical insurance packages until the end of June this year. “This is an extremely difficult decision especially in view of prevailing circumstances and the impact it will have on those affected and their families,” he wrote.
For the 13 complainants, however, the goodwill expressed by Mr Glencross is not enough. They state in their complaint that the reason for and terms of their dismissal were unwarranted and arbitrary.
In a letter to the Managing Director of MPL dated today — 10 May 2021 — Mr Michael Baruch, a KCCA labour officer, asks the company to settle with its former employees without reference to him. If that fails, MPL will have to file a reply to the labour office not later than 24 May 2021.
The complaint against MPL comes two months after the KCCA labour office stopped staff restructuring at the Vision Group until after a complaint filed by one of its employees is determined. Like many other businesses, the media industry was hit hard by the government’s restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19. Vision Group, whose flagship outlet is New Vision newspaper, was hit hard by low sales and advertising revenue in 2020, and took an early decision to cut some staff salaries, adjust employment terms, and close some of its regional print outlets.
Mr James Andante Okanya, a New Vision employee, filed the complaint. He accuses the company of unjustifiably converting his permanent contract to a temporary one. Mr Okanya, who is also represented by the Centre for Legal Aid, states that the company unilaterally altered his terms of service to his detriment, and that the action is “illegal and contravenes provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, the Employment Act, the Labour Disputes Act 2006 and international law”. The complaint is set to be heard in July.
This is a developing story.