Union strikes back at SABC’s retrenchment plans

The South African national broadcaster has been the centre of heated debates for many years. The SABC sucked up another R2.1bn from government coffers in October, with R1.2bn earmarked as a further bailout for the embattled state-owned entity. With unemployment levels in the country at a 17-year high, the Communication Workers Union says it will force the SABC to scrap its plan to retrench 400 employees. MyBroadband takes a look at the tension between the Communication Workers Union and the struggling SOE. This article is published with permission from MyBroadband– Melani Nathan

Last-ditch attempt to stop SABC job cuts

By Jamie McKane

The SABC and unions are set to meet this week in a last-minute attempt to find alternate solutions to the proposed retrenchment of more than 400 employees.

Speaking to the City Press, Communications Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said the state broadcaster would be forced to halt its retrenchment plans or create further conflict with workers.

“Eventually, they will be forced to back off because we are ready to roll up our sleeves and step on to the battlefield should we not come to an agreement by Wednesday,” Tshabalala said.

Following heavy backlash from workers at the state broadcaster, the SABC decided last week to suspend its retrenchment process for seven days as it negotiated with unions.

The board said that suspending the retrenchment process for seven days will facilitate the exploration of other options.

“This will allow all stakeholders to further engage and explore further options in an effort to ensure the financial sustainability of the SABC,” the SABC said.

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Short of seeking further bailout from the government, however, there are few cost-saving options open to the SABC other than retrenchments.

This point was emphasised by SABC chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini, who said the move was a board-approved resolution and a key part of the public broadcaster’s recovery plan.

Despite this, the CWU’s strike action will continue next week, with Tshabalala advocating for the dissolution of the SABC board and the placing of the broadcaster into business administration.

“We are not going to concentrate on this seven-days’ Christmas party they have invited us to,” he said, calling on all SABC employees to participate in the strike action and impose a blackout at the state broadcaster.

“SABC workers, we are here Monday morning, those who are working on Saturday or Sunday; don’t go to work.”

Blackout and strikes

Prior to the temporary suspension of retrenchments, the CWU had threatened a blackout at the public broadcaster in response to management’s decision.

CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala threatened the public broadcaster with a blackout on Friday, and said a shutdown would continue through the next week if retrenchments went ahead.

This threat remains on the table as the unions and SABC continue negotiations.

Unions also plan to combat the retrenchments in labour court, arguing that the problems at the SABC do not stem from its general staff.

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Trade union Solidarity echoed this sentiment, demanding that presenters and other innocent SABC employees be left alone and that the looters and corrupt ones be prosecuted and dismissed.

“With irregular expenditure of more than R5 billion that is still awaiting condonation, or is subject to further investigation, it is reckless and merciless to retrench staff with no further ado, while the corrupt ones get away with murder,” said Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann.

The union also said that the Public Protector should investigate the failing state broadcaster and determine how taxpayer money has been so recklessly misused.

“Tax money has been used recklessly. The problem must be investigated at its root and the guilty ones must be taken to task or prosecuted,” said Hermann.