SABC unions will not go down without a fight

Unions say the SABC has not done enough to avoid retrenchments after it was confirmed that over two thousand workers could be axed from the broadcaster.

In the wake of the announcement that the SABC has served a notice of retrenchment to 980 permanent workers and 1 200 freelancers, spokesperson for Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), Hannes du Buisson, told the Mail & Guardian that there has been no efforts made to stop retrenchments.

He said there has been no real will by the board to increase revenue before resolving to embark on the mass retrenchments.

“This is something that should have been done,” Du Buisson said.

He added that the union is also “gravely concerned” that the SABC has not stopped recruiting new workers in recent months.

According to Du Buisson, the broadcaster is still filling positions of workers that are about to lose their jobs.

“There has been a passive vote of no confidence in the SABC’s existing employees,” he said, adding that the workers losing their jobs have been loyal to the broadcaster for years.

Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act — which sets out guidelines for embarking on a process of retrenchments — states that an employer must be able to justify the retrenchments based on its operational requirements. The employer must also seek out appropriate measures to avoid dismissals.

In the retrenchment notice sent to workers on Tuesday morning, the broadcaster said it has already embarked upon several cost-cutting measures “but there is simply no manner in which a complete organisational wide restructuring and reductions can be avoided”.

A statement released on Monday announcing the broadcaster’s intention to embark on the retrenchments said the job cuts should result in a cost saving of approximately R440-million per annum.

General secretary for the Communications Workers Union Aubrey Tshabalala said the SABC’s resolution to embark on the retrenchments demonstrates that the board has “basically run out of ideas” for seeking out alternative funding models.

“It shows that the SABC executives are not properly fit to operate the broadcaster effectively,” Tshabalala told the M&G.

He agreed with Du Buisson’s concern that the same “executives crying foul over a high salary bill” have in recent months embarked on costly recruitments.

Both Tshabalala and Du Buisson voiced concern over the high number of freelancers expected to be retrenched. Many of the freelancers that are likely to lose their jobs have been working for the SABC for years and now they will be left with no benefits and no retrenchment packages, Du Buisson said.

But the unions say they will be watching the retrenchment process closely. If the SABC is not able to present unions with a proper rationale for the retrenchments, Bemawu will challenge the retrenchments in the Labour Court, Du Buisson said.

Tshabalala said the union is confident there will ultimately be no retrenchments at the SABC. If the broadcaster resolves to go ahead with the process, there will likely be massive industrial action, he said.

He added that the union is currently engaging with its labour federation, Cosatu, to chart a way forward.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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