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AFP Sarajevo Bureau: Arbitrary Sacking of Two Journalists

Thursday 12 November 2009

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While management continues to evade the issue of insecure labour contracts governed by French law - the abusive use of short-term and freelance contracts that has been amply denounced by staff in recent weeks - it is busy taking an axe to some of AFP’s longest-serving local reporters in the Balkans.
On Friday last week the two journalists who have long assured AFP’s presence in Sarajevo, one of them for eight and the other for 14 years, were abruptly told that their contracts were being terminated, and their bureau purely and simply shut down.
To add insult to injury they were given "terms" that would be totally illegal under French and many other European laws, along with an implied threat to withdraw management’s generous offer if they didn’t agree to it in a matter of days.

In particular, our two colleagues were invited to accept:

  • a mere pittance in lieu of redundancy payment: a third of a month per year served, instead of the full month they would obtain as journalists under French law;
  • the obligation to sign a "consensual" (sic) severance agreement under which they state that they are leaving voluntarily, and give up their rights to any future claims against AFP. After representations from the unions, the "consensual" aspect was dropped.
  • the immediate closure of the bureau, with management no longer requiring their services during a three-month notice period.

In France some of these conditions would be purely and simply illegal; the supposedly "voluntary" aspect that management initially sought to impose would at the very least be subject to review by the labour inspectorate.

Needless to say the two journalists concerned, who have served AFP faithfully in a difficult post for many years, both have family obligations, and little chance of finding alternative employment at short notice.

AFP has at no point made any attempt to offer other employment to our two Sarajevo colleagues.

Furthermore, the way in which the announcement of the bureau’s closure is being announced creates the strong impression that it may be reopened at short notice with new staff. Which raises worrying questions about what exactly the status of the current bureau might be.

The SNJ-CGT, FO and SUD unions at AFP demand that management rescind the arbitrary and unjust measures taken against our two colleagues.

We further demand that any redundancy measures taken against colleagues working under local status be at least brought into line with the principles obtaining under French law.

The increasing use of local-status contracts, including for staff who have previously been employed under French short-term or freelance contracts, is a threat not only to the well-being of many of the staff involved, but to wages and working conditions for all AFP staff everywhere.

SNJ-CGT, FO and SUD trade unions - Paris, Thursday November 12, 2009