Fight over SABC jobs goes to parliament

23 July 2020 - 06:47 By THABO MOKONE
Labour unions representing thousands of SABC workers and an internal staff formation have taken the fight for their jobs to parliament.
Labour unions representing thousands of SABC workers and an internal staff formation have taken the fight for their jobs to parliament.
Image: Waldo Swiegers. (C) Sunday Times.

Labour unions representing thousands of SABC workers and an internal staff formation representing news managers and senior journalists on Wednesday night took the fight for their jobs to parliament.

Trade 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” — on Wednesday told MPs that the process followed by the SABC board and executive management was “fatally flawed” with no consultations.

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

The newsroom is the biggest operation at the SABC, with a permanent staff complement of 841.

Sigabi said while they were not entitled to perpetual employment at the SABC, the manner in which the board and management had gone about introducing retrenchments  in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act was problematic.

The SABC board and management want to cut the broadcaster's R700m annual wage bill by retrenching some 600 workers across all provincial offices of the pub; ic broadcaster, including Auckland Park citing dwindling revenue.

But Sigabi told MPs that their bosses had failed to be transparent and consultative on the issue.

“The SABC seeks to retrench 600 permanent employees and 1,200 freelancers but as the staff we do not know how the corporation arrived at those figures,” said Sigabi.

“ Neither the news staff nor the news senior management has set in a meeting where the current state of affairs was analysed and a workable structure was workshopped 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 they were only recently called to a meeting where a draft new structure was presented and they were only given four days to express their views on it.

When they asked for an extension and copies of the proposed new structure, this was rejected.

“To date we've not officially received the new structure as the news staff to analyse it properly. Those who managed to attend and get a glimpse of it, did so virtually in where the news group executive presented it.

“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.”

Turning to the skills audit, Sigabi said it was worrying that the SABC wanted 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 in the survey bore no relevance to our job descriptions which rendered the process a waste of time and a waste of money.

“The external service provider appointed to conduct this survey admitted to this fact and insisted that we respond anyhow because the audit had to be completed. The audio 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 Bussion and the CWU's Aubrey Tshabala.

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.

Du Bussion said when they raised their concerns, management told them to “we must know and we should not co-manage” the SABC.

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

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