INFORMATION and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga says the non-renewal of contracts for selected employees at the Times of Zambia newspaper is part of the restructuring process aimed at making the institution more effective.

But the Media Liaison Committee (MLC) has described as retrogressive the decision by Times of Zambia management to lay-off some of its employees on a contractual basis, saying it is unthinkable that young blood could be sacrificed in an industry that desires to grow.

In a statement, MLC chairperson Enock Ngoma stated that it was regrettable that Times of Zambia management could retrench people, rather than placing them on pensionable terms of condition.

“The Media Liaison Committee is aware that over a week ago, management at the Times of Zambia newspaper and the Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ) held a meeting where they resolved to retrench some employees and terminate contracts, especially for young journalists, some of whom have been on part-time contracts for over five years. As MLC, reports reaching us indicate that most of the affected journalists are young ones with a lot of potential, who are currently on contracts that expire on March 31, 2020, and have been working on contracts for many years. And to get rid of such promising journalists after ‘using’ them for so many years is inhuman and unfair! Instead of now placing them on pensionable terms of condition, the newspaper, in collusion with ZUJ, decides not to renew their contracts,” Ngoma stated.

“We wish to strongly oppose this inhuman decision from the two key stakeholders, management and the union. It is unthinkable that young blood should be sacrificed in an industry that desires to grow. We are equally disappointed with ZUJ, who supported such a retrogressive proposal, which culminated into a devilish decision! How can a normal union sacrifice its members at the altar of monetary expediency? If ZUJ were interested in the development of the media industry, how could they agree to throw away energetic journalists and maintain a tired workforce? This is shameful and unacceptable! In this case, ZUJ should revisit its mandate so that it re-energizes its efforts in protecting its members rather than sacrificing them.”

Ngoma charged that government wanted to kill the Times of Zambia newspaper by merging it with the Zambia Daily Mail.

“Our view is that from the time the Times of Zambia was conjoined to the Zambia Daily Mail that was the beginning of the newspaper’s demise. It is clear that government wants to completely annihilate the Times of Zambia by fusing it into the Zambia Daily Mail. It is also clear that government wants to destroy Times of Zambia assets, which surpass those of the Zambia Daily Mail by far. How can you take a bigger company in terms of assets and fuse it into a smaller company? This does not make any sense at all. It is pure destruction of a viable company that could have just been recapitalized and left to run profitably. This is a merciless destruction of a viable entity. MLC, therefore, demands that they rescind the decision immediately. It is a decision that takes the media industry backwards instead of developing it,” stated Ngoma.

But in an interview, Malupenga explained that the Times of Zambia decided not to renew some contracts because the institution wanted to maintain a sustainable workforce.

“Yes, the Ministry is aware about what’s going on at Times of Zambia, except we don’t call it retrenchment. You know, the Times of Zambia is being restructured so that is part of the restructuring process. But the future of Times Printpak is bright, management is just reorganising and most of those who you are saying have been retrenched, their contracts just came to an end, and in the context of the restructuring process, those contracts are not being renewed because management is restructuring the institution. So, it is not retrenchment, really, because if you’re working on contract basis and your contract comes to an end, you, as an employee, has an option to say, ‘I am not renewing this contract.’ If you have good reasons, like maybe you have found greener pastures of whatever reasons just like the employer can also say, ‘we are not renewing.’ So, this is what is happening, even at Times of Zambia, if someone’s contract has come to an end and it is not renewed, it can’t be said to be retrenchment,” said Malupenga.

“It’s not a secret that there has been an announcement that Times of Zambia will be restructured to make it more effective and efficient. What is the purpose of keeping so many employees, who you are not able to pay? Are you not the same media people who have been reporting that Times of Zambia employees have gone for so many months without getting their salaries? So, what is the purpose of keeping a huge workforce, which you can’t pay? When you talk about restructuring, meaning that they are trying to keep the institution to the levels that will be manageable so that whatever number of employees will remain there will be paid, and paid on time. So, it is not retrenchment, but making the company more effective.”