A number of youth freelance reporters at the Department of Information Services (DIS) who work for the state run Daily News are disgruntled as they claim that government is breaching their employment contracts.
The reporters who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Telegraph last week that things started when they realized that the Department was not publishing most of the work that they submitted since January.
Upon investigation, they were told that their contract with government had been terminated as per a directive from the Director of Information Services, Bome Matshaba.
The youth freelance programme was started by government in 2011 in an endeavor to address rising unemployment among the youth. There are close to 100 youth reporters who are employed on a freelance basis country wide.
“Most of the freelance reporters across the country are disgruntled as they are in the dark as to what is happening. Our stories are not being published. The employer never made any formal communication to us or give us any notice that their contracts were terminated,” said one of the reporters.
“Our contract states clearly on clause 7 that any decision to terminate our contract should be done so in writing within seven days. This was never done. Here in the North region we protested this decision and took our issue to the Member of Parliament for Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane who enquired with the Deputy Permanent Secretary in charge of Broadcasting and Media, Mogomotsi Kaboyamodimo. In response, Kaboeamodimo said he was not aware of such an issue and promised to find out,” added the reporter.
The reporters said Kaboyamodimo on or around the 13 January 2016 promised to call the Director to seek clarity on the matter and further instruct the Director to reverse his decision.
On the 19th January 2016, Kaboeamodimo told Moswaane that the matter had been resolved as the reporters would be allowed to continue writing. To their amazement, towards the end of January 2016 the freelance reporters stories had still not been published. The freelance reporters now suspect that government has illegally terminated their contracts.
“This is a problem that has affected most of the Daily News freelance reporters countrywide. The sad thing is that we are not getting any income, we are renting houses and we have families to take care of. The employer is silent on the matter and we have no one to tell us what’s happening,” said the reporters.
The Telegraph is in possession of a copy of the freelancers contract with government and it partly reads “Except as otherwise provided in this contract, the Director may, after giving seven days’ notice to the Freelancer, terminate the contract in any of the following: Abuse of the Department property, insubordination, refusal to obey lawful order or direction, drinking or being drunk on duty, inability to perform duties due to other effects of alcohol or drugs and discourteousness especially to customers,” he said.
Reached for comment over the allegations, the Director of Information, Matshaba referred this publication to the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, Mogomotsi Kaboeyamodimo as he (Matshaba) said he was not authorized to talk to the media.
On Friday, Kaboeamodimo said that they do not discuss staff issues with the media.
“I do not think it would be proper for me to discuss staff matters with the media. I am sorry,” he said.
Several efforts to contact Moswaane over the matter were futile as his mobile phone rang unanswered. By Monday, the reporters were contemplating taking government to court for breach of contract. A number of freelancers are said to be leaving the government newspaper as they feel that they are being abused by their employer. Contacted for comment, President of the newly formed, Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) Philimon Mmeso said it is very important for freelancers to join the union as this would help them to speak in one voice and address their grievances.
“We are currently lobbying media practitioners to join this union. Most of the time it is the freelancers who are abused by their employers. I want to encourage them to unionize so that they can be able to amplify their voices and not suffer in silence. They have a right to do so, be it government or private media practitioners,” he said.