The SABC board is set to defy ministers and go ahead with its planned retrenchments early in the new year.
This week, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi told the board to halt retrenchments and look for alternative cost-cutting measures.
The instruction was made during a virtual meeting between the SABC management, the board and the two ministers on Monday.
“[Ndabeni-Abrahams] has offered no solutions to the current problems at the SABC,” said one board member who asked not to be identified.
The instruction, which the board intends to defy, comes as the public broadcaster faces massive cash flow problems, with its salary spend being a little more than half of its monthly revenue targets.
“As things stand, the SABC cannot afford to pay salaries beyond March if it fails to retrench the 400 workers.
“As board members, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the SABC or we could face action for failing to exercise our fiduciary duties. Forget about politicians and their instructions,” the board member told City Press.
On Friday, the SABC and labour unions faced off at the labour court as the battle over the impending retrenchments continued.
The SABC and the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union have had 16 meetings since July, but have failed to find common ground.
SABC human resources head Mojaki Mosia deposed an affidavit in which he said they had taken into account all the proposals by the unions to avert the job cuts.
The proposals included salary reductions across various job categories, reversal of the salary increases given earlier this year and freezing of annual salary increases.
“Having applied the principles and guidelines in considering the proposals, the SABC considered all options to minimise the total number of affected employees and was able to reduce the total number of affected people to approximately 400 employees, which is significantly fewer than the original projected figure of 600.
“In addition, there are approximately 170 vacant positions that will be available for employees to apply for, which provides potential for further reducing the number of affected employees to 230.
“Further thereto, there are 97 positions which the organisation has identified as forming part of section 197 business processes outsourcing initiatives,” Mosia said.
He added that, “although these proposals are progressive, they all did not address the issue of redundant jobs and transition into the new operating model. [Redundant jobs] are inherent contributors of an unsustainable payroll bill and inhibitor towards investing more into our much-needed content.”
This is the second time in less than 24 months that the SABC’s attempt to cut its wage bill has run into political resistance.
In July, City Press reported that the cash-strapped public broadcaster’s bosses met with ANC bosses at Luthuli House and were quizzed about the plan to retrench 600 full-time employees and terminate the contracts of 1 200 freelance staff.
The governing party allegedly warned the broadcaster that its decision to lay off employees would embarrass it and could cost it votes in the local elections next year.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe confirmed that the meeting took place, but said the party was approached by the SABC, not the other way around.
In that meeting, the ANC was represented by deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, Deputy Communications Minister Pinky Kekana and SA Communist Party first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila.
Earlier this year, the SABC got a government bailout with the condition to cut costs, but is now facing opposition from ANC leaders.
SABC insiders say the corporation would need an estimated annual injection of R1 billion from the state to maintain its salary bill if it does not proceed with the staff cuts.
The retrenchment talks, facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, started on Wednesday, but have been postponed until the middle of next month.
An SABC skills audit report that was shared with ANC leadership painted a mixed picture of the state of the broadcaster’s skill levels.
The report revealed that almost 800 employees were mismatched with their job profile qualifications.