SABC strikers wage battle on two fronts – in the boardroom and on the streets

SABC staff have been protesting outside the SABC since this morning. While one group continues to picket in the street outside the broadcasters’ offices in Johannesburg, the other has ceased strike action in hope that the broadcaster will come to the negotiating table.

The two different trade unions – Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union and Communications Workers Union (Bemawu) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) – met with the SABC several times throughout October to present their list of demands and come to a solution.

After a deadlock was reached, Bemawu decided to begin strike action without CWU because renegotiations with the SABC could take several weeks or even months.

At the heart of the strike is the union’s demand that the public broadcaster give workers a 10% salary increase which would need to be backdated from April 2017. Some of the placards at the strike emphasise this demand, saying: “We are hungry”, “9 months of labour- no baby” and “Pay your staff, it’s the right thing to do.”

Instead, the SABC board insisted on a zero percent increase in salary because they said the broadcaster can’t afford it.

The general secretary of CWU, Aubrey Tshabalala, told the M&G that they served the SABC with a notice to strike on October 30 2017 and the SABC responded by pointing out certain legal issues (such as errors in the form that referred the dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration). The SABC claimed that the unions needed to correct these issues before they could legally strike.

CWU’s legal department advised the union to withdraw the notice to strike because it only gave the SABC board 48 hours notice which also presented legality problems.

Tshabalala confirmed that CWU had now reopened negotiations with the SABC but that if the broadcaster failed to “bring something to the table” then they would join the strike action.

According to Tshabalala: “The only thing that will prevent a strike [from us] at the SABC is if they respond to the demands or offer the workers something.”

A SABC employee on strike, Nomthi Taubokong, told News24: “We are here today because we are hungry and we are not able to pay our bills. We are not able to do what an ordinary worker is able to do for himself.”

Other demands made by the union include what Bemawu’s spokesperson Hannes du Buisson describes as “political interference”.

Du Buisson told News24 : “The strike is all about a public broadcaster that needs to be free of political interference. We need to be free of board and executive interference.”

The union has also called for an investigation into executive positions which were appointed without advertising.

In response to this strike, the SABC management released a statement saying that it was concerned that employees had chosen to participate in an unprotected strike action.

The statement proceeded to threaten that since Bemawu had gone ahead with their strike, workers were now liable to “disciplinary action which may include dismissal”.

Bemawu, in a short statement, said they “vehemently” deny that their strike is unprotected and state they are “in possession of a letter from the CCMA confirming our strike is protected and we may proceed with the strike”.

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