, NAIROBI, Kenya Feb 29 – Employees of State broadcaster KBC vowed on Wednesday to remain out of their work stations until the government implement’s a 500 percent pay increase pledge which has been pending for several months.
The workers who mainly included journalists, technical staff and sales personnel reported to the KBC offices at 8am and camped on Harry Thuku Road where they chanted slogans and waved placards, castigating their employer.
“No money, No work,” a placard waved by one of the employees read. Most of them wore branded red T-shirts and chanted “We will not work, unless we are paid.”
Vincent Lempaa, a court reporter at the station who led the largely successful strike addressed his colleagues at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s main entrance and urged them to remain united to enable the government act on their demands.
“We have dedicated our lives on this station yet the government does not realise that. We are paid poorly and despite pledges that our allowances and salaries will be increased, we have not seen anything,” Lempaa said.
His strike co-organiser Mary Daraja who is the Head of Radio at KBC told reporters covering the strike “we cannot continue to work like slaves. We should be paid just like other State corporations. We have no allowances and the government has been cheating us.”
The workers said only 9 percent of the promised 500 percent pay hike had been paid to them.
“There will be no news read at KBC today… you can see everybody is out here. Those who thought the strike is not real can now see for themselves,” she said, pointing at the hundreds of workers including news anchors, producers and reporters who waved placards outside Broadcasting House.
At 1pm, the station did not air news as scheduled and instead replayed music. Parliamentary proceedings were however broadcast in the morning session.
Daraja said it was unacceptable “for journalists to be left to work in dilapidating conditions when senior managers at KBC frequent 5-star hotels and good hospitals.”
Other staff members accused their bosses of sexual harassment and seeking sexual favours before they are promoted or given any form of recommendation.
“It is not a secret here at KBC, women and young girls are sexually harassed, it does not affect interns only,” one staff member who declined to be named said.
The workers also protested at poor working conditions, including leaking ceiling boards and poorly maintained toilets.
They demanded the sacking of Managing Director Waithaka Waihenya and radio chief Walter Mongare aka Nyambane.
“We want professionals to manage KBC. Sack Waihenya now. Nyambane is a comedian and not a manager.”
They also demanded the return of Metro FM, a reggae station owned by KBC that was shut late last year and replaced by feminine station Venus FM which broadcasts on 101.9 FM.
The workers later marched to Parliament building where they sought audience with legislators Kiema Kilonzo of Mutito and Boni Khalwale of Ikolomani.
“We will stand by you and ensure you get paid well, we will not allow anyone to be intimidated for participating in this strike because it is genuine,” the legislators said.
The screening of the much publicised match between Togo and Kenya’s Harambee Stars on Wednesday afternoon also hang in the balance due to the strike as only KBC was scheduled to air it.
“Forget about that match. There is nothing you are going to watch between Togo and Kenyan. I am the one supposed to be commentating on it but you see I am also on strike. We want food, we want money. We will not work if our money is not paid,” Jack Oyoo Sylvester, a football commentator at the broadcaster said.
Nelly Moraa, a parliamentary commentator said “It is a big joke if you knew what we are paid.”
The station was tightly guarded by dozens of paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) officers who were deployed there early on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Information and Communications was expected to issue a statement about the matter later on Wednesday.
“There is a meeting of the management going on at the station now as we speak,” another staff member said.
Journalists from Capital News who were sent to cover the strike were harassed by paramilitary police who impounded a video tape and threatened to destroy a camera.
“We were harassed and led to small room near the gate where they forced me to replay the footage I had taken. That is when they forced me to give them the tape which they took by force and allowed us to go, warning us of dire consequences if we continued filming,” Mike Kariuki, a Capital News cameraman said.
Senior Reporter Judie Kaberia who was with Kariuki at the time said “It is sheer harassment. They detained us and now they have taken away our tape.”
Central divisional police boss Eric Mugambi pledged to ensure the material confiscated from Capital News journalists was returned to them.
“I am sorry for what happened, we are going to get it (tape) back to you,” Mugambi said, when reached on telephone.
Station owner Chris Kirubi condemned the harassment on the journalists.
“It is not acceptable at all,” he said. The tape was returned to Capital News more than three hours later.
Later, the KBC Managing Director issued a notice threatening to sack all employees who participated in Wednesday’s strike.
“Be advised that those who will not report to their workstations by tomorrow (Thursday) morning will have stern disciplinary action taken on them, including dismissal from service,” Waihenya said in a letter addressed to all staff.
“The strike is illegal. The existing mechanism of handling grievances has not been exhausted and the Labour Act which clearly stipulates how industrial grievances should be handled has not been applied,” he said.
He warned: “Those who choose to proceed on this course of action will now be doing so at their own risk.”
Heads of departments were ordered to make a list of all employees who will fail to report on duty Thursday.
Waihenya further warned his staff that “no unauthorised meetings of members of staff within the premises of Broadcasting House are allowed.”
Lempaa who is one of the strike organisers dismissed Waihenya’s letter dismissing it as an “empty threat.” He vowed that the strike would continue.
“The constitution gives us the right to picket. Tomorrow no work will go on at KBC and we are converging at Ndemo square to continue agitating for our demands,” he vowed.
“Waihenya is contradicting what the Ministry of Information said in Parliament that no one will be penalised for taking part in the strike until a solution is found.”