The SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
The SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) has called for the dissolution of the inquorate SABC board, saying it has failed to provide the strategic direction required to turn around the troubled public broadcaster.

The broke SABC sank  into a deeper crisis in December following the resignation of four non-executive directors, which has left the company’s board without the quorum required to make decisions.

Their resignations came in the wake of a scathing letter to the board by communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in which she accused the non-executive directors of not acting in the best interest of the SABC as they pressed on with retrenchments.

This week, the SABC confirmed that the planned retrenchments will be suspended until further notice. The planned job cuts were likely to affect about 1,000 permanent employees and 1,200 freelancers.

CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said on Tuesday the union had long called for the retrenchment process to be halted and for the SABC to embark on a comprehensive skills audit.

“We made a strong proposal to the former and current minister [of communications] that a comprehensive turnaround strategy must be implemented to avoid retrenchments … but the SABC continued to be arrogant,” said Tshabalala.

He said the board had failed to make any progress in turning around the public broadcaster.

“They took many wrong decisions including pushing for retrenchments without a comprehensive skills audit … we have an incompetent board and we need to start on a clean slate,” said Tshabalala.

SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu said at the weekend the public broadcaster’s management communicated to staff and organised labour at the end of 2018 that the “envisaged [section] 189 process [retrenchments] was held in abeyance and this is still the case to date”. 

“The SABC’s dire financial situation is a matter of public record. Monies owed to creditors are steadily climbing, however the SABC has worked out a payment plan in consultation with the relevant creditors for the outstanding payments.

“The SABC management continues to discuss its financial sustainability and related issues with the relevant stakeholders, and is working to find a solution for the benefit of the SABC, its employees and the SA public,” Momodu said.

In 2018 executives said the SABC had uncovered several irregular promotions and salary increases by the previous management, which resulted in the inflation of the salary bill.

The broadcaster was overstaffed and the wage bill was inflated when freelancers were hired to do jobs that could be done by permanent employees.

The SABC spends more than R3bn a year on the salaries of 3,000 permanent employees.

DA MP and communications spokesperson Phumzile van Damme this week welcomed the halting of the retrenchments.

“We now reiterate our call for an independent skills and salary audit to be conducted, as we have done consistently in the past. It’s imperative that this takes place, so that critical posts are not simply abandoned and they remain filled.

“Retrenchments must be conducted in a responsible manner and a skills audit is critical to that process,” said Van Damme.

She also said filling the eight vacancies on the SABC board must be top priority.

“Despite an undertaking by the portfolio committee of communications last year that the process of filling the eight vacancies would begin in early January 2019, this has not happened. It is in the best interest of the SABC that these vacancies be filled urgently. We need the board to return to its full capacity and for stability to return to the struggling SABC.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za