There’s no question about the fact that the current Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it challenges to individuals, households as well as corporate firms, both big and small.
Companies in almost all sectors of the economy are either laying off staff, asking employees to take salary cuts or in extreme cases, take unpaid leave. Though I’m yet to understand the difference between being laid off and taking an unpaid leave.
At this time, you can consider yourself immensely lucky – and thank God – were your employer to propose that you only accept a small pay cut until things get better in the coming months. For it’s of course far much better than the uncertainty that comes with either being laid off or the anxiety that results from being asked to take an unpaid leave.
Under the current circumstances and economic situation, any reasonable employee would accept a pay cut. Only that some employers, keen to save and guard their profits even during the current crisis, are now taking the issue of pay cuts during Covid-19 and overstretching it to the extent of leaving their staff struggling and frustrated.
Take the case of Express DDB, a PR and advertising firm and the local affiliate of DDB Worldwide Communications Group, a global marketing communications network owned by Omnicom. (And don’t click on the firm’s URL as the site was apparently brought down by the web designer as he’d not been paid for his services).
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Express DDB wasn’t one of the best employers and among the favourite destinations for PR experts and creatives, according to former and current staff. And it’s all because of the firm’s MD, Monty Dhariwal.
In March this year, when the country was in the middle of coping with the effects of the pandemic, Express DDB’s management through the firm’s MD, Monty Dhariwal, asked staff to accept a 30% pay cut from April for a period of three months, effectively till the end of June. The company’s staff, who number about 20, accepted the proposal.
Before the three months could lapse however, that’s in the middle of May, Monty was to come up with another proposal which completely shocked staff at the company.
With the company operating without a HR Manager over the years, he decided to use the firm’s senior accountant to do his dirty work. Through an email, the accountant announced that staff would be required to fill in daily time sheets as they were now mostly working remotely due to the stay-at-home order from the government. What stunned them more was that the number of hours indicated on the time sheets would be reviewed on weekly basis to evaluate and determine everyone’s monthly remuneration. Meaning that from then onwards, on top of the 30% salary cut, they’d be paid according to the hours worked.
The staff outrightly rejected this proposal. However, the most vocal staff who questioned the expanded paycut were told bluntly to either take it or leave it.
But Monty was not done yet. He still had another proposal up his sleeve.
In early June, that’s before the staff could receive their May salaries, Monty sent a letter proposing that in an “effort to manage the company conservatively during this economically challenging time,” the company had come to a “difficult but necessary conclusion to further reduce salaries by an additional 10%” for the month of May 2020.
Express DDB staff now take home 60% of their initial salary.
But that’s not all.
Apart from the fact that the May salaries were paid on a 40% salary reduction long after staff had submitted invoices based on 30%salary cut, the MD has converted most of staff from employees to consultants, paid by cheque after submitting an invoice. He also practices discrimination when it comes to paying salaries by releasing cheques to those he considers “loyal” while detaining other cheques.
The MD’s management style has led Express DDB to record a high staff turnover in the creative and digital department due to his high handedness. This has in turn made the company lose clients uncomfortable and tired of seeing new faces in their account every now and then, examples here being GEMS Cambridge International School and the Nairobi Hospital.
More interesting is that even losing his talented employees, he still goes ahead to use their CVs while pitching for new business.
Due to frustrations, the MD’s long serving PA and admin Lucy Kamau this week quit in a huff, together with receptionist Dorcus Owuor. Reading the PA’s resignation letter makes one understand how frustrated she’d become working at the company. Other resignation letters seen by this writer depict a worrying trend where frustrated employees quit and bluntly tell the boss how he pushed them into quitting.
Still on the unnecessary – and at times even illegal – deductions, the company deducts from all employees an illegal “security deposit fee” of Kshs 5,000 per month. The cumulative amount should be refunded when one leaves the company but this doesn’t happen.
“You are taken round in circles till you give up. Employees who give a month’s notice of resignation take several months to get paid their salary for the last month of service. Consequently, most staff have resorted to just resigning abruptly. They wait until their cheques are cleared then vanish without proper handover,” said one former staff.
The MD also delays payment to suppliers and at times refuses to pay some of them completely, after consuming services. Consequently, a number of suppliers have blacklisted the company.