Unions representing thousands of SABC workers have taken the fight for their jobs to parliament. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/SUNDAY TIMES
Unions representing thousands of SABC workers have taken the fight for their jobs to parliament. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/SUNDAY TIMES

Unions representing thousands of SABC workers took the fight for their jobs to parliament on Wednesday night, saying the process followed by the broadcaster’s board and management is “fatally flawed” and that there has been no consultation.

The SABC wants to cut its R700m annual wage bill by retrenching some 600 workers across all provincial offices and the head office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, citing dwindling revenue.

Unions Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) and Communication Workers Union (CWU), the biggest at the SABC — as well as a body acting in the interests of the public broadcaster’s news managers, the Editorial Forum — told MPs that the retrenchment process lacks transparency.  

The Editorial Forum, led by national radio news editor Zolisa Sigabi, was even more damning, saying it is the first time since 1993 that the SABC newsroom, the biggest in the country, is undergoing restructuring with looming retrenchments without any consultation from the company’s executives.

The newsroom is the biggest operation at the SABC, with 841 permanent staff members.

Sigabi said that while they are not entitled to perpetual employment at the SABC, the manner in which the board and management went about introducing retrenchments in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act is problematic.

“The SABC seeks to retrench 600 permanent employees and 1,200 freelancers, but we do not know how the corporation arrived at those figures,” she said. “Neither the news staff nor the news senior management has sat in a meeting where the current state of affairs was analysed and a workable structure work-shopped to come up with a structure that is fit for purpose.

“Since 1993, news management has played a key role in deliberations informing the restructuring of the newsroom. However, this time around and for the first time in our newsroom’s history, news management was excluded from the process.” 

Sigabi said the forum was only recently called to a meeting at which a draft new structure was presented, and was only given four days to express views on it. When asked for an extension and copies of the proposed new structure, this was rejected.

“To date, we’ve not officially received the new structure to analyse it properly. Those who managed to attend and get a glimpse of it, did so virtually when the news group executive presented it,” she said.

“From what we hear, it is concerning that it seems to be a simplified structure based on a commercial model unsuitable for a public broadcaster. We also understand that regions have been reduced, decreasing the newsroom’s ability to access and cover diverse communities. In addition, job scales have been reduced and positions altered in manner that is foreign to international public broadcasting norms.”

Flawed audit

As for the skills audit, Sigabi said it is worrying that the SABC wants to retrench workers without a comprehensive study of its entire skills base.

“Honourable members, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the SABC does not accurately know the skills base of its employees. The recent attempts at surveying the employees’ skills were flawed. The questionnaires bore no relevance to our job descriptions, which rendered the process a waste of time and a waste of money,” she said.

“The external service provider appointed to conduct this survey admitted this but insisted that we respond anyhow because the audit had to be completed. The evidence is available as you may have heard from Bemawu’s presentation.”

The skills audit being conducted by the SABC was also described as flawed by Bemawu’s Hannes du Buisson and the CWU’s Aubrey Tshabalala.

Both of them also accused the SABC board and executive of hiring outside lawyers and other consultants for functions that permanent employees were hired for, such as conducting disciplinary hearings.

MPs across the spectrum said the picture painted by SABC unions is worrying but that those representing the ANC are adamant they will not allow job cuts at the SABC, despite its well-known precarious financial position.

The communications committee resolved to call the SABC board and management to another meeting for their response.

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