357 FM employees have taken the youth radio station to the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) for allegedly failing to pay them since April last year when it was launched.
According to the presenters who spoke to the Weekender on condition of anonymity, they took the DDPR route last month after the owner, Motlatsi “Veteran” Majara, failed to pay them as agreed.
The DDPR is an autonomous labour tribunal which with a mandate to resolve trade disputes through arbitration or conciliation among other functions.
In its “Notice of Set Down”, which the Weekender managed to obtain, the DDPR set the date for the hearing to 25 February 2016.
One of the presenters said they had only been paid M500 since the station was launched.
“When we started work in April last year, we were put on a four-month probation and told that our remuneration would only be discussed after that period,” the presenter said.
“We were also promised contracts, but nothing of that sort ever materialised after the probation and there was no explanation at all. “Every time we brought up the issue of our payment, Ntate Motlatsi would get furious and say that he would deal with the matter during month-end, yet he would not be available at that time.
“After about three months, we were given M500 each which he said was meant to compensate for our transport expenses. Later on, the station manager held one-on-one meetings with us and asked us to state the salaries we thought we deserved to earn.”
The presenter said after tiring of management’s “merry go round”, they were left with no choice but to seek arbitration.
“We took the matter to the Ministry of Labour late last year but the process seemed to be stalling, so we opted for the DDPR. The case was supposed to be heard at the DDPR on Monday, but we were told the paperwork had not been finalised hence the postponement to 25 February.”
The source said most of the station’s staff had since resigned because they could no longer afford the transport costs.
“We kept on coming to work hoping that the situation would improve until the end of January when most of us resigned because we could not afford the transport costs or pay rent,” said the presenter.
“Our families were also asking us why we were not pitching in in paying the bills at home yet we were going to work.”
Another source revealed that the station had relocated from Pioneer Mall to Majara’s home in Maseru East after failing to pay the rent at the shopping centre. The station went off air last month and only resumed broadcasting last week.
Contacted for comment, Majara admitted that the station was unable to pay its staff, but denied knowledge of the case before the DDPR.
“Everyone working at the station is aware that we don’t have money yet, so we agreed on a framework whereby they can use the station to promote themselves in the case of artists, or to advertise their products,” said Majara who is also a shareholder at People’s Choice Radio (PC FM).
“For instance, some of the presenters host events which they would have advertised freely on the station, and what they make from those events does not benefit 357 FM.
“Ultimately, I am a media person who knows the law. So I cannot, by any means, exploit these children. Everyone working at the station knows the problems we are facing and is there on his or her free will.”
He warned that the station’s future hung in the balance as it was currently a loss-making business.
“We will pay them when we can, although it is difficult to commit to a timeframe since we don’t know when the station will start generating revenue,” he said.
“Most of 357 FM’s expenses are being paid by the money I get from PC FM, and the chances of 357 FM closing shop are high since it is clearly struggling to remain afloat.”