Confusion sets in as Meta content moderators go without pay

Content moderators under Sama, Meta’s content review sub-contractor in Africa, earlier today picketed at the company’s headquarters in Kenya demanding April salary, while urging it to observe the court orders that barred it from conducting mass layoffs.

The demonstrations came after Sama, in an email, instructed moderators to clear with the company by May 11, a move the employees say is against the existing court orders.

The 184 moderators sued Sama for allegedly laying them off unlawfully, after it wound down its content review arm in March, and Majorel, the social media giant’s new partner in Africa, for blacklisting on instruction by Meta.

The court issued a temporary injunction on March 21 barring Sama from effecting any form of redundancy, and Meta from engaging Majorel, which was also instructed to refrain from blacklisting the moderators. Sama was directed to continue reviewing content on Meta’s platforms, and to be its sole provider in Africa pending determination of the case. However, Sama sent the moderators on compulsory leave in April saying it had no work for them as its contract with Meta had expired.

Sama told TechCrunch that it had sent the notice “to staff whose contract had expired to go through our regular clearance process. This clearance process involves the return of company equipment to make sure that all final dues can be paid without deduction for that equipment, in accordance with Kenyan law.”

It said the moderators’ contracts had ended in March after its deal with Meta expired, saying that it was only processing the moderators final dues.

“We understand our former employees’ frustration because they were led by others to believe that they would all receive salary indefinitely while on leave, but that is not what the court dictated,” said Sama.

Yet, Sama’s VP of global service delivery, Annpeace Alwala, had in an affidavit dated April 12, and seen by TechCrunch, asked the court to set aside the temporary injunction saying that keeping the content moderators came “with a serious cost implication.” Alwala had outlined that it would cost about $90,000 monthly to keep the moderators, and a further $135,000 to process their work permits and security bond.

The moderators filed the suit alleging that Sama failed to issue redundancy notices, as required by Kenyan law. The suit also claims, among other issues, that the moderators were not issued with a 30-day termination notice, and that their terminal dues were pegged on their signing of non-disclosure documents. Sama says it observed the Kenyan law.

Sama, whose long list of clientele includes OpenAI, dropped Meta’s contract and content review services, laying off 260 people in the process, to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation), following the heat from a 2022 lawsuit in Kenya by its former content moderator, Daniel Motaung.

Motuang, a South African, had accused Sama and Meta of forced labor and human trafficking, unfair labor relations, union busting and failure to provide “adequate” mental health and psychosocial support. He was allegedly laid off for organizing a 2019 strike and trying to unionize Sama’s employees. Sama and Majorel moderators earlier this week voted to form a union.

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