File photo: ANA/Karen Sandison
File photo: ANA/Karen Sandison

Unions head for labour court as SABC adamant on freezing salaries and retrenching staff

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Nov 13, 2020

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Johannesburg - If management at the SABC has it their way, there will be no salary increases for the next three years and about 400 staffers’ jobs will be on the line after the public broadcaster announced it was going ahead with retrenchments.

But the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) says the Section 189 process is a sham as they had not been adequately consulted by the public broadcaster. Bemawu says it will head to the labour court on an urgent application next week to force the SABC back into the boardroom to properly consult further.

Speaking to IOL on Friday, the SABC’s chief operating officer, Ian Plaatjes, said the public broadcaster would retrench 400 workers and re-advertise 170 jobs. He admitted the unions were not “onboard” with the SABC’s plans, but said management would be executing it.

“The unions are not onboard with this, this is not a proposal, we are busy executing. We are no longer in consultation, the Section 189 process has completed and we are in execution mode,” said Plaatjes.

He said retrenchments would affect people across the organisation — at the management, operational and support services levels.

“Obviously news is a core business, there is a higher amount (of people) in news than there would be in the other core business,” said Plaatjes.

Through the SABC’s mooted restructuring process, Plaatjes said the public broadcaster was looking to save about R700m per year for the next three years, and they would achieve this by freezing salary increases for all staff, amending the annual leave and sick leave policy and by also canning the public broadcaster’s leave encashment policy.

Salary freezes alone would see R100m in savings per year for the next three years.

“The other alternative is we are looking to cut the number of leave days from 35 to 28, we are freezing the practice of leave encashment, so we are encouraging people to take their leave and then we are reducing the number of sick days.

“The normal industry standard is 36 sick days over three years, in our organisation we have 30 days per year and you can accumulate. That has huge financial impact on the organisation,” he said.

Hannes du Buisson, a spokesperson for Bemawu, said they were outraged by the lack of consultation and were heading to the labour court in a bid to force the SABC to consult adequately and allow the unions to canvass opinions from their members.

He said the SABC abruptly abandoned the consultative process in October and have refused to consult further ever since.

“We need to bring the SABC back to the consultation process which they have not exhausted,” said Du Buisson.

“The concern on our side is why are we dipping in the public purse over a matter they can resolve. We are saying, allow us to consult on severance pay and selection criteria for this process, but they flatly refused and said they are not consulting any further.

“Even now, they can still say let's consult instead of spending more money on litigation that is not necessary,” he said.

Du Buisson described the new proposed structure as a “mess”, with some of the new roles to be advertised including the role of a “professional journalist” — seemingly a middle-tier post between the junior and senior roles, which are also proposed.

“It is ridiculous, what is a professional journalist? We don't even know what that person is going to be doing. If you are a journalist, it means you are a professional,” he said.

“It is either they don't know what they are doing or they are out to cause mass confusion and drive people to leave, because even now, some people are saying they are sick and tired, they want to pack their bags and leave, they want to make people gatvol,” said Du Buisson.

Meanwhile, Plaatjes said the SABC was looking to cash in on digital services in the next three years by creating new revenue streams through the telecommunication companies, like the new Telkom initiative which will see the SABC cash in through licensing and platform revenue.


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