Perhaps, due to the challenging times facing media industry globally, some Nigerian media houses who owe their staff backlog of salaries are yet to make a move on the wage settlement, seven days after the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) issued them a 14-day ultimatum to pay up the outstanding salaries.
Worried about its members undergoing excruciating times over unpaid salaries, the NUJ last Tuesday gave debtor media organisations a two-week ultimatum to settle all outstanding salaries and allowances owed their employees or risk industrial action.
It is gathered that seven days after the ultimatum, no debtor media house, both in the print and broadcast category, has paid the accumulated salaries, thereby risking their operations being stalled for days, a situation that would deny them income.
“If after the picketing the media houses still did not pay the outstanding salaries, NUJ could drag them to the industrial court,” a source says.
Issuing the 14-day ultimatum in Lagos on his way from Morocco, Mohammed Garba, president, NUJ, decried a situation where “media owners owe journalists several months of unpaid salaries.
“It is an open secret that only very few media houses pay their workers their entitlements on a regular basis. Most of the organisations do not have functional condition of service. Workers in those media houses who have left the service of their former employers find it difficult getting their disengagement benefits.”
The NUJ leadership is worried that major newspaper owners making several millions of naira as profit owe their employees several months of unpaid salaries, Garba said, asking “how do we talk of sanitising the industry and the profession when some media organisations are aiding corruption by that singular act?”
According to the president, the NUJ has also alerted members of the Radio and Television Workers Union (RATTAWU) and the National Union of Printing and Publishing Workers (NUPPROW), about the proposed picketing should any of the debtor media organisations fail to act after the expiration of the two-week ultimatum. “We have also informed the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) of this decision,’’ he said.
It would be recalled that last two years, the umbrella body of journalists sponsored a Media Enhancement Bill with the objective to enhance welfare of its members in various media houses.
It is gathered that the bill, which is still at the National Assembly, when signed into law, will also possibly spell out the capital base requirement by investors coming into publishing business, advocate media enhancement welfare package and try to ensure payment of salary by media houses as of and when due. The body is in the process of establishing the committees to work out the details.
A source, who says this has become necessary in view of backlog of salaries owed journalists across some media houses, insists that it is the duty of the NUJ to tell its members not to work for a particular media house who pay peanut as salary or has the tendency to owe salaries. “Though, we may have challenges implementing some of the orders because of the level of unemployment in the country, but we will try to ensure that our members welfare is assured,” the source says.
In the past, the journalists’ body had embarked on picketing some media organisations owing their staff months of salary arrears. But this time, according to the source, striking against the organisations will not be the first option.
Already, he says the NUJ officials have embarked on sensitisation of some publishers across the country on the significance of enhanced welfare package for their journalists, saying “we will also organise seminars and involve dialogue to draw up the ethical consequences of paying journalists peanut. We are working in collaboration with the NLC and we believe that publishers will listen to us.”
At present in Nigeria, according to a media analyst, many media houses, except a few outfits owe their staff salary in arrears, ranging from three to six months.
“Even where salaries are paid promptly, many journalists still earn less than $3 per day. In most Nigerian newspapers, graduate journalists receive as little as N30,000 or $200 monthly. After paying rent, and perhaps setting something aside for food in the new month, the average journalist has little or nothing left for sustenance.”
The NUJ, Lagos State chapter, in collaboration with the NLC early 2011 picketed some media organisations over several months of salary arrears to their workers.
NUJ, which identified many debtor media organisations, said then that the intention of the picketing was to make the work disruptions weighty “so that the media houses can realise the dangers they have put their workers into.”