23 April 2021

Namibia: Workers at public broadcaster go on strike

Employees at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) go on strike following the breakdown of talks between NBC management and the labour union over a demand for salary increases.

According to the New Era newspaper, around 500 NBC workers decided to take nationwide strike action on 22 April. The imminent strike follows several months of negotiations between NBC management and the Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU), which recently ended inconclusively. NBC workers were demanding an 8% wage increase.

In a media statement published one day before the strike commenced, NBC Board Chairperson Lazarus Jacobs, announced the Board of Directors’ disappointment with the workers’ decision to take industrial action. The Board believes that, overall, the strike “won’t benefit any party and moreover it will deprive Namibians of [critically] needed information especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic.” The country is also in the midst of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Jacobs highlighted that: “Should the strike continue in its current form, it will worsen the financial position of the NBC given that the organisation won’t be able to pay for salaries in the current environment. It is very important to note that nothing positive can come from this strike as there will be no ‘winners’.”

In recent years, the public broadcaster has grappled with a worsening financial crisis and resorted to implementing cost-cutting measures. Just last week, NBC’s Director General, Stanley Similo, wrote to staff to reiterate that the corporation was facing serious financial challenges with projected shortfalls this year. This is largely due to the budget allocation for financial year 2021/22 of $127.65 million – a N$206 million (62%) reduction from the previous financial year. NBC’s media statement confirmed that a one-off payment of N$7.6 million that was initially offered to employees had to be revoked following the Minister of Finance’s new budget allocation for NBC. The Chairperson concluded that the Board was committed to finding a solution to NBC’s funding woes and that ensuring the sustainability of the business was an ongoing concern.

Earlier this year, workers at South Africa’s public broadcaster, SABC, also organised a strike surrounding dissatisfaction over restructuring plans and the retrenchment process, which concluded at the end of March. More than 600 employees were retrenched.

Read more: SABC employees go on strike as retrenchment process resumes

NBC’s strike, ending indefinitely, takes place just a week before the Government of Namibia will co-host the World Press Freedom Day 2021 Global Conference. It will also be a dual celebration for the 30th Anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 Press Freedom Index – published earlier this week – revealed that Namibia reclaimed its position as the country with the freest media in Africa. It now ranks 23rd, up one place from last year.

NBC is a member of the Public Media Alliance. We will continue to report on any new developments.