Journalists at the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard have ended
their strike after a Labour Court ruled that it was illegal and ordered
them to negotiate with management without disrupting production, writes
Torby Muturikwa.

Labour Court Judge Winfield Chikoto, after hearing submissions from the Zimbabwe Independent Group, ruled that the striking journalists should return to work, ending their two-day work stoppage.

Following the ruling the group chief executive officer Raphael Khumalo offered an increase of 600% and pledged to review the new salaries at the end of March.

Khumalo said his company was committed to the welfare of its employees and had not in anyway neglected them, as claimed by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).

Khumalo said: “Our first priority is the welfare of our workers. We did not and will not subject them to the so-called inhuman treatment as alleged by the journalists union.

“Like any business at this moment, we are battling steep production costs such as ink and newsprint. However, despite these costs, the organisation makes it a priority to keep a happy family within the group."

Journalists at the two papers, published by Mail & Guardian chief executive officer Trevor Ncube, went on strike pressing for better remuneration and packages.

They wanted management to up their salaries by 2000% which they said would be in line with inflation.

Before the strike, a junior reporter in the group was earning $25 million (less than R50) a month but now earns $200 million (R200), and has the prospect of a further review in March.

ZUJ President Matthew Takaona had accused the Zimbabwe Independent Group of paying its journalists “poverty salaries”.

In a stinging statement Takaona said: “This is a classical example of an employer being double faced. How can they preach human rights when they can’t look after those who work for them? They are hypocrites. They are only exploiting human rights for commercial reasons. They don’t stand for human rights at all.

“The proprietors (Ncube) of this group are oppressors who see the twig in the other person’s eye but do not see the logs in their own eye. How can they pay their journalists poverty salaries?”

Zimbabwean publishers are battling to remain viable owing to sharp increases in production costs as well as a government crackdown on businesses that increase prices without consultations with an appointed commission.

Khumalo and the editor of the weekly Financial Gazette were in November arrested by police for increasing the cover prices of their newspapers without consulting the Pricing and Incomes Commission.

The commission, which led a crackdown on manufacturers of basic commodities in July 2007, sets the prices of goods and services in the country.

Business leaders argue that the commission should subsidise them if it wants to regulate the prices.

Meanwhile, the reconstituted board of the Media and information Commission (MIC) has invited the banned Daily News newspaper to submit an application for registration after pressure from the paper’s lawyers.

Mordecai Mahlangu, the legal representative for the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of The Daily News and Daily News On Sunday, had threatened to take the MIC to court to force the body to call a hearing.

Mahlangu argued that the MIC was taking too long to respond to the ANZ application for a licence despite changes made by Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in November 2007.

But the MIC has now invited ANZ to reapply for an operating licence. Chinondidyachii Mararike, the MIC chairman announced that they were ready to deal with the issue. He did not explain why it had taken the MIC 70 days to communicate with the ANZ lawyers.

Last November, Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu reconstituted the MIC after the Supreme Court ruled that the previous board had been biased against The Daily News.

Ndlovu said then he expected the new MIC board to deal with the newspaper’s case once and for all.
Launched in 1999, The Daily News, which was Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, was forced to shut down by the MIC after the Supreme Court ruled that the paper was operating outside the law following its refusal to register with the media body.

It was banned on 12 September 2003. Attempts to have the paper resurrected following successful court judgments were frustrated by continued government defiance of court orders.

The government of President Robert Mugabe repeatedly accused the paper of being a mouthpiece of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change