/ 7 July 2009

SABC strike: ‘There will be no broadcast blackouts’

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will have to come up with a “very sophisticated” contingency plan to avoid dead air on radio and television channels should unions embark on a full-scale strike.

This was the opinion of Kate Skinner, coordinator of interest group Save Our SABC (SOS) on Tuesday

Unions representing a large number of the public broadcaster’s workforce have confirmed that members will be starting lunch-hour pickets from Wednesday, and a full-scale strike may go ahead next week.

“They [management] should, at all cost, avoid the march [next] Tuesday because it will be the beginning of a full-scale strike, and the beginning of blackouts on our television screens,” said Skinner. She added that the SABC should have a “serious and very sophisticated plan in place to make sure that there are no blackouts.”

The SABC says that it does have contingency plans for broadcasting in case of a complete downing of tools.

“Common sense should tell you that I cannot tell you what the plans are, because the reason people go on strike is so that they disrupt all operations — so if I tell you what the plans are then they will hear about it and counter those plans,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday.

“We can assure the public that there will be no blackouts or any disruption to normal viewing; we have a plan,” he said.

Members of three major unions — the Broadcast, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu), the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (Mwasa) and Congress of South African Trade Unions-affiliate the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) — want a revision of the 8,5% offer that the public broadcaster has put on the table.

“We want a 12% increase and we had told the SABC that if it didn’t respond to our demand by July then our members would go on strike,” said CWU national collective bargaining officer Vulture Ntuluki.

Management at the SABC seems confident about getting a further 1,5% that it is currently negotiating with Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda.

“It seems the unions are flexible with the remaining 2%, because they are also looking at re-grading posts as an option to fulfil the remaining percentage,” Skinner said, adding that the unions don’t trust that management will fulfil its promises.

“There is deep suspicion around management, and unions are scared that management will make promises it won’t deliver upon.”

Ntuluki told the M&G Online that two of the unions (CWU and Mwasa) were ready for a full-scale strike, but Bemawu was not ready to proceed.

“Bemawu served its notice this morning [Tuesday], so we will not down tools completely yet. We will be on a go-slow and our members will go on pickets during their lunch hours,” he said, also referring to the SABC’s contingency plan should the union embark on a full-scale strike. “We don’t know what their plans are, but they say they have a plan so we will take their word for it.”

A march has been planned by the unions for Tuesday next week. “We have mobilised as many of our members to be part of the march. We will be marching from Media Park to the SABC offices in Johannesburg to give a memorandum to the executive, clearly stating what our needs are,” said Lungile Lushozi, the president of Mwasa.

Lushozi also added that they are hoping to get support from union members from other media houses.