Strike looms at SABC

The government has been holding behind-the-scenes discussions with three media and broadcasting unions in a bid to avert a pay strike by SABC staff, who have warned this could shut down programming, including coverage of the Confederations Cup.

The strike threat emerged as members of the board of the embattled broadcaster were summoned to testify at a parliamentary inquiry yesterday.

The SABC is taking the threat seriously. The Mail & Guardian has seen a leaked strike plan drawn up by the corporation’s human resources manager, Mannie Alho, which insists services must continue uninterrupted and replacement labour should be identified.

The plan also says that a “no-work- no-pay principle will be applied without compromise”.

Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcast, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union, said union members would be balloted on whether they wanted to go on a full-blown protected strike after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) issued a certificate of non-resolution on Thursday.

The unions rejected the SABC’s offer of an 8.5% wage increase at a CCMA hearing in Johannesburg this week. They want 12.2%, which, they say, was promised.

Strike action could happen as early as next week, Du Buisson warned.

“If all three unions strike jointly, only a very small staff group aren’t members and they won’t be able to run programming,” he said.

“Even non-members, including management, are fed up with the SABC. They’ve got cash flow problems, but it’s not as if they’re bankrupt and can’t honour their financial obligations.

“If they sorted out the infighting, they could get funding.”

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the broadcaster was exploring legal avenues. The SABC had the option of taking the CCMA decision on review to avert a strike.

“Otherwise we have contingency plans. We would like to assure the public that services will not be interrupted,” he said.

Du Buisson said to avert strike action, communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda would have to give an assurance that the SABC would honour the multi-term pay deal. Alternatively it would have to table an acceptable offer.

“But the SABC seems unwilling to negotiate and hasn’t put anything on the table. There’s an option of transferring a percentage to next year, but they’re being arrogant and hard-arsed,” he said.

“We entered a multi-term agreement for three years, specifically to have labour peace during the elections, the Confederation Cup and the 2010 World Cup. But now they aren’t honouring it.”

Meanwhile the SABC’s senior management forum, representing about 100 managers, has accused the broadcaster’s acting group chief executive, Gab Mampone, of putting “false information into the public domain” that senior management had agreed not to accept pay rises this year.

In a leaked internal memorandum, the forum said Mampone was “out of his depth” and should step down immediately in the SABC’s interests.

“He cannot continue to head this valuable public institution for a minute longer. To allow him to continue as the acting group chief executive will plunge this corporation deeper into crisis and we, as senior managers, cannot allow this.”

A process aimed at dissolving the rump of the SABC board began yesterday when board members were summoned to appear before Parliament’s communications committee in an urgent inquiry into its malfunctioning.

Only four board members—former chair Kanyisiwe Mkonza, Nadia Bulbulia, Alison Gillwald and Gloria Serobe—had chosen not to resign by yesterday. Of the 12 original board members, only Bulbulia and Gillwald attended the parliamentary hearing.

At the inquiry, Vadi said some board members had complained they were given less than 24 hours notice to attend, and the committee was likely to reconvene at a later stage.

Broadcasting specialist Gillwald told the committee the board was “haemorrhaging from every pore and unable to fulfil its most basic duties”.

Gillwald said she had not resigned because of her fiduciary and other board responsibilies. The board had effectively collapsed without a quorum after recent resignations, and she urged the committee to move swiftly to find a resolution.

The inquiry will investigate if members fulfilled their obligations and fiduciary duties under the Broadcasting Act, and if the board is dysfunctional.

Mkonza, who became a board member after she stepped down under pressure from other members, told the M&G on Thursday she had received a letter that day requesting to attend the inquiry.

Given the short notice, she had other obligations.

“I’m glad I served on the board as I would do anything to serve my country. I wish we could sort things out, but in the state the board is in now, that’s not going to be possible,” she said.

The SABC is seeking a R2-billion bailout from the government.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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