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Panic at Standard group as purge looms ominously due to Balooning Wage Bill

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Uneasy is the hand that holds the pen, and mic, at Standard Group and Mediamax over looming massive layoffs of journalists and other subordinate staff due to the firms’ ballooning wage bills.
Insiders at the two media houses whose major shareholders are Uhuru Kenyatta and Gideon Moi for Mediamax and Standard respectively revealed that workers are spasmodic not knowing when some of them might be given the bad news.
At the Standard Group, anxiety is so palpable one can touch it after it emerged that the management is planning to fire a big number of staff, immediately the United States president Barack Obama departs from Kenya after his three-day official visit ends on July 27.
The sources add that the company’s board of directors met recently and sanctioned the offloading of between 300-400 staff following a performance review by a consulting firm, Deloitte. The consulting firm in its report recommended that some departments in the editorial section be phased out and others merged due to purported duplication of roles.
The firm also proposed the scrapping of titles such as associate editor and deputy managing editors stating their roles were not clearly defined in their editorial mandate.
Recently, the Standard Group froze the per diem, including travel allowances for the staff in one of the cost-cutting measures. The media group’s two Saccos also stopped advancing loans to the members “until the list of those to be sacked is out”.
Two months ago, the Standard Group human resources director Pauline Kiraithe missiled a memo to all staff urging those who had hit 50 years or were about to hit that mark to apply for early retirement.
She stated in the memo that those who will apply for early retirement will get a better bargain as opposed to those who will be laid off.
Kiraithe was fished from Nation Media Group by the Standard Group chief executive Sam Shollei. She was tasked with luring renowned journalists from Nation to join the Standard. This saw scores of scribes troop from Nation after their pay was doubled, a scheme that seems to have hurt the Standard Group’s wage bill tremendously.
Most of the journalists poached from Nation have failed to make a mark at Standard Group besides sparking division in the newsroom as their hefty salaries do not stack up to their output. The Shollei group baptised Dream Team took over the troubled company in the last quarter of 2012.
Sources add that the retrenchment is expected to cut through the ranks at the newspaper and KTN, and some managing editors and senior managers will be sent packing for nonperformance.
Indeed, rumour doing rounds is that the only managing editor assured of his job – and who may even be promoted – is Charles Otieno, following the prodigious success of The Nairobian. The paper is now the highest selling title at the group, with a print run of 100,000 in some weeks.
The sources say the group managing editor, Kipkoech Tanui will survive although others want him out.
Three months ago, a senior editor is said to have camped at Shollei’s reception for close to four hours to have a suspension letter handed to him for nonperformance, revoked.
According to sources, Deloitte recommended the merging of Saturday and Sunday editions to save running costs. The consulting firm stated that there was no financial logic of having two managing editors, deputy managing editors and a dozen editors holding titles that were selling between 43,000 and 56,000 copies only. The firm also questioned the rationale of the two editions having separate news, features and editing teams, arguing it was contributing to the ballooning wage bill.
In the meantime, hordes of journalists at the Moi media empire have joined the Kenya Union of Journalists in the last four months in a bid to stop the management from laying them off or bargaining for a better sendoff package.
The union has a collective bargain agreement with local media companies’ that makes it harder – or more expensive – to fire its members.
But even as Shollei goes ahead with his retrenchment programme our sources say he is also on the chopping board. They say the board of directors has already identified a manager from Bamburi Cement Factory to succeed him after the Mois became unhappy with his management style.
Sholllei’s main undoing, according to sources, is using the media house to fight his wife’s battles. His wife, Gladys, was booted out of the Judiciary where she was the Chief Registrar over numerous allegations of corruption. She has, however, been using the Standard to fight back by planting stories depicting her accusers as corrupt, a move that might cost her husband his plum perch.
Shollei is also being accused of failing to advise the board on the proper procedure of sending staff home.
A case in point is the sacking of Chacha Mwita as group’s editorial director. Chacha, who was unceremoniously bundled out of the Standard Group headquarters on Mombasa Road, challenged his sacking in the court and was awarded Sh67 million for wrongful dismissal. This and numerous other cases have earned Shollei the ire of the board which feels it is time for him to go. Sources say all is not well either at the SG stable KTN since the abrupt resignation of Mutua Nzile.


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