A court in Nairobi has ordered Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, to continue paying its content moderation workforce pending the hearing of a lawsuit challenging the planned massive layoff.
Justice Mathews Nderi Nduma of the Employment and Labour Relations issued the orders compelling Meta and outsourcing company Samasource Kenya EPZ Limited to pay the content moderators their salaries before the hearing of the case on May 25, 2023.
In addition, the judge also granted the parties an opportunity to negotiate the case out of court with the intention to settle the same.
In the matter, the court has since barred Meta from hiring other content moderators to replace the moderators that were to be laid off in March this year.
The judge slammed the brakes on plans by Meta and Sama to lay off the entire content moderation workforce at Sama offices in Nairobi as part of the social media firm’s strategy to restructure its tech and business groups.
The lawsuit was filed by 43 Facebook content moderators in Kenya hired by Sama on behalf of Meta in March this year.
They allege that the redundancy being undertaken was unlawful as it does not follow the strict procedure laid out under the country’s employment laws.
The petitioners said that the exercise was also unlawful “because no genuine nor justifiable reason was given for the redundancy”.
The moderators have been given varying and confusing explanations for the redundancy which do not add up, they told the court.
The petitioners and all the other content moderators had been issued with termination letters indicating that their employment contract will be terminated effective March 31, 2023, on account of redundancy.
According to court papers, Meta went ahead to engage Majorel Kenya Limited to recruit new content moderators to replace the moderators engaged through Sama.
At least 260 content moderators were set to lose their jobs on the said date.
In the suit, the petitioners allege that the redundancy is unlawful because no proper notice was ever issued. They said that the notices issued on January 10, 2023, and January 18, 2023, were essentially termination letters.
“The moderators were not given a notice period of 30 days as is required. The moderators were not consulted on the redundancy itself. The criteria used to terminate the contracts of the moderators did not take into account seniority in time, skill, ability and reliability of the individual moderators,” the lawsuit alleges.
It adds that the moderators were not told what each of them was to take home as their terminal dues.
“The payment of the moderators’ dues is being made conditional on them signing non-disparagement documents for which no consideration has been offered,” the suit reads.