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Unions vow to drag SABC back to court over “unfair” retrenchments

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) has vowed that it will once again drag the SABC to the labour court, following the retrenchment of 621 workers at the public broadcaster last week. 

Bemawu, the Communication  Workers Union (CWU)  and the Information Communications and Technology Union (ICTU) are locked in talks over how they will approach their court challenge. They are set to finalise their strategy by the end of the week.

“We are still having serious talks as unions, with another meeting due Thursday 8 April. We are also compiling a list of all the applicants, with some being the sacked workers. 

“There are a lot of grounds we have identified to challenge this retrenchment. It was unfair. Some of the workers said they decided to take voluntary packages because the SABC was being unreasonable. One member alleges that they were being offered the same salary they earned 35 years ago to keep their job at SABC,” said Bemawu spokesperson Hannes du Buisson.

“One of the things we are challenging is the unfair manner in which the organisation selected who should be retrenched. They used flawed requirements for certain posts just to exclude some workers. We are convinced we have a case and are willing to challenge.” 

Du Buisson said the unions were “shocked” and “offended” by the outsourcing of work, particularly marketing work, at the broadcaster. 

“They have hired an entire external agency to handle their marketing now, which is supposed to be a role fulfilled by employees internally,” said du Buisson.

According to the unions, the SABC has also been keeping unqualified personnel in acting positions for a long time to avoid permanently filling crucial positions. This will also be part of their court argument.

In the mass restructuring at the SABC, 621 employees bowed out last week as the public broadcaster finalised its “emotionally charged” section 189 process.

SABC chief executive Madoda Mxakwe admitted that the retrenchments were difficult, but said they were necessary to ensure the financial viability of the broadcaster.

The SABC’s spokesperson, Mmoni Seapolelo,  said the broadcaster was confident that it followed every necessary step to ensure that the retrenchment process was fair.

“The SABC has concluded its section 189 process and has  transitioned into the new fit-for-purpose structure. This follows an extensive consultation process and rigorous recruitment and selection process across the organisation. 

“The section 189 process, while difficult for all stakeholders, was but part of a turnaround plan that will help to reposition the organisation to become financially sustainable and allow the SABC to proudly execute its mandate to serve the people of South Africa,” she said.

The section 189 process would withstand legal scrutiny, she added. “This has been validated by three labour court judgments that stated that the SABC has conducted itself in a fair, transparent and procedural manner, while at all times negotiating in good faith,” said Seapolelo. 

The retrenchment of 600 SABC workers was announced last year. Notices were served in June 2020, with consultations ongoing. The process took nine months to complete. 

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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