SABC strike threatens ANC elective conference coverage

One union, CWU, has decided to go on strike on December 13 and a second union, Bemawu, will ask its members at the public broadcaster whether they are prepared to strike for a wage increase. (Delwyn Verasamy)

One union, CWU, has decided to go on strike on December 13 and a second union, Bemawu, will ask its members at the public broadcaster whether they are prepared to strike for a wage increase. (Delwyn Verasamy)

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are planning a protected strike that could threaten the coverage of the ANC elective conference.

The reason for the planned action is the announcement that SABC employees will not receive an increase for the current financial year ending in March next year. This follows a R3.9-million payment to the five members of the interim board for their six months in office according to the unions.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed that the board received 50% of their salaries at the end of September, and the other 50% at the end of October. This fee, according to Kganyago, is approved by the department of communication.

Bemawu spokesperson Hannes du Buisson said the five members were not paid equally and their payment can only indicate that the SABC is in a better financial situation than when the interim board started.

The interim board members had previously stated they would defer accepting payment for their term until it was certain that the broadcaster would meet the salary bill.

According to Bemawu, the 0% increase comes after a “significant increase in the cash flow of the SABC, and a record collection of TV license fees”.

“Employees cannot be punished for the maladministration at the SABC,” adds CWU secretary general Aubrey Tshabalala.

“The last time we wanted to partake in a strike, the SABC raised some legal technicalities and threatened us with an interdict,” says Tshabalala. Rather than face an interdict and get stuck at the court docks, the union decided to resubmit and follow the letter of the law.

Although Tshabalala does not want it to seem as if CWU is using the ANC elective conference as a bargaining chip, he does acknowledge that the planned strike will have a serious effect on coverage of the event.

Tshabalala confirms that the union gave the necessary seven-day notice to strike and is prepared to go on strike on December 13. Bemawu, on the other hand, will take a final decision on Friday, December 8.

Du Buisson confirmed that after arriving at a deadlock during conciliation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, the issue remained unresolved and they were granted permission to strike.

The CWU’s membership at the SABC is close to 1 400 and Tshabalala believes that they will be able to mobilise well above their numbers. Bemawu has roughly 1 800 members. The SABC has about 3 800 employees.

Some reasons put forward by the public broadcaster to justify the 0% increase, according to Bemawu, is that SABC employees have benefitted in previous years and that they are the best paid in the industry.

During the course of the negotiations, the CWU dropped their demand for an increase in housing, travel and medical aid subsidies. Their demand for a salary increase was dropped from 15% to 10%.

Du Buisson feels comfortable that the majority of Bemawu’s demands put forward in October have been addressed. A board has been appointed, unprocedural appointments are under investigation by the Public Service Commission and the protest ban enforcers are under investigation.

The only demand that has yet to be resolved is the 10% salary increase.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the broadcaster had received CWU’s strike notice, adding that the SABC “has always been open to negotiating”.

Bemawu believes the only way to secure an increase is for employees to go on strike. The union will ask members in a ballot on Thursday, December 7, whether they accept the 0% increase or whether they would like to withhold their labour and proceed with a protected strike.

“We negotiated in good faith and the SABC did not move an inch,” says Tshabalala. 

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