Over 600 SABC employees lose jobs in a 'difficult and emotionally charged' restructuring process

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A general view of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offices in Durban, South Africa.
A general view of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offices in Durban, South Africa.
Darren Stewart
  • A total of 621 SABC employees will lose their jobs from the end of March.
  • The Communication Workers' Union says the retrenchment process lacked transparency.
  • Unions have repeatedly blamed the SABC's payroll woes on the company's bloated and high-earning management structure.

A total of 621 SABC employees will lose their jobs from the end of March, after the broadcaster concluded its contentious restructure process, which was heavily criticised by labour unions.

The public broadcaster, which is battling financial challenges, said on Tuesday the restructuring process - which gained momentum last year and threatened a broadcast blackout - had been concluded, with 346 employees opting for severance packages and the other 275 made redundant.

The company said: "...the total number of employees who will leave the organisation at the end of March 2021 is 621" in a process that CEO Madoda Mxakwe described as "extremely difficult" and which "became emotionally charged at times."

"The process was necessary to preserve and reposition the SABC as a resilient and viable public broadcaster and public media organisation," he said.

The SABC started issuing redundancy notices to staff in June 2020, prompting resistance from union members who challenged the process in court and threatened to strike. Some 275 workers who were made redundant were unable to secure alternative job opportunities within the company after they were invited to apply for positions.

The number of people to be laid off had been changing as talks to find alternatives to retrenchments went on. It was announced early in January that a total of 303 people would lose their jobs, down from the initial figure of 400. There had been efforts by the departments of labour and communications to resolve the impasse between the SABC board and the unions over the controversial restructure.

"Grossly unfair"

The Communication Workers' Union (CWU) said they were of the view that the process was "grossly unfair" and lacked transparency, with general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala blaming the SABC for ignoring Parliament's recommendation of finding alternative solutions to retrenchments.

"We think that there will be more retrenchments coming in the future and an unsustainable public broadcaster," he said.

Tshabalala said the SABC did not disclose the selection process used to determine the targeted jobs, leaving them to believe that there were people who were being targeted.

He said the retrenchments affected workers across the board, including the editorial division, which he believes could potentially impact output levels and quality.

"What is more dangerous is the replacement of permanent staff with freelancers, this could mean that the quality of journalism at the SABC might be affected."

The SABC reduced its employees from 3 167 in 2019 to 2 979 in 2020 while contracted freelancers grew marginally from 1 775 in 2019 to 1 792 in 2020.

At the heart of the SABC problems is an urgent need to reduce the company's wage bill and save some R700 million per year in staffing costs. But unions have largely blamed the wage bill problems on the bloated and high-earning management structure.

A breakdown of salary costs, contained in its annual report, reveal that on average, its eight top executives earn more than President Cyril Ramaphosa, who receives R3.1 million a year. It showed that top executives earn, on average, R3.9 million per year with their annual wage bill coming in at over R31 million.

Senior management members earn on average R2.14 million a year, with their total management for the 27 employees at this level coming in at over R58 million per year. Meanwhile, middle management earns, on average, R1.2 million a year for 374 employees. Their wage bill comes in at nearly R462 million per year.

There have also been calls for the public broadcaster to find alternative funding models, in a bid to improve its dwindling revenue streams.

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