Suspension of SABC retrenchment process extended to end December

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
  • The decision to extend the suspension the implementation of lay-offs was taken at a meeting between the SABC board and ministers of Labour and Communications.
  • The suspension does not remove the threat of retrenchments.
  • An independent labour expert will be appointed to mediate the impasse between the SABC management and unions.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has extended the suspension of the retrenchment process to end of December, the company said on Tuesday, as it attempts to find a solution to the impasse.

The public broadcaster insisted that the delay does not mean retrenchments are off the table altogether.

Last week, the public broadcaster put a hold on the implementation of section 189 of the Labour Relation Act, for seven working days, to allow for further consultation between the parties involved. 

The SABC, which is battling severe financial problems, said in a statement that the board would use the time until the end of December 2020 "to enable additional consultations."

"The SABC and the participating parties will utilise this time for further mediated sessions with an independent labour expert to explore alternative options to minimising the impact of retrenchments. 

"The issued redundancy letters will also be extended by the same period. The Section 189 process has not been terminated," it said.

The SABC previously said it planned to cut 400 jobs, in a process that has been met with fierce resistance from labour unions and affiliated movements, with threats of a broadcast blackout, if management fails to accede to the demand to halt the process.   

Government intervention

The cutting of jobs is part of a plan to restructure the corporation, which is has repeatedly been a recipient of government bailouts, as it battled to generate enough income to sustain its operations. Government in the last financial year extended R3.2 billion funding to SABC, to help the broadcaster shore up its balance sheet.

Last week, the company reported that it suffered a net loss of R511 million for the year ended 31 March 2020, signalling that its financial woes were far from over. Advertising income also took a knock during the period, with the broadcaster recording a dip across all its mediums.

Workers at offices across the country have been holding lunchtime pickets in a bid to put pressure on management and the board to reconsider the cuts. The decision to delay the implementation of section 189 follows a meeting on Monday between the SABC board, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and the Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi, over the matter.

A source close to the meeting told Fin24 that some of the agreements reached by the parties during the meeting included an acknowledgement that the SABC had not considered and exhausted all factors before taking the decision to retrench workers.

The meeting also concluded that an experienced mediator must be appointed to mediate the impasse between the unions and management and that the SABC should suspend the retrenchment process for a minimum of 30 days, and that retrenchments must be the last resort after all options have been exhausted.

Unions had complained that the restructure of the SABC was taken without proper consultation. The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) had gone to the Labour Court to apply for an interdict against the issuing of redundacy letters. No decision has been taken on the case.

Bemawu was not immediately reachable to comment on the resolution to stop legal interventions relating to the redundancy plan.

The Monday meeting also resolved that all courts processes by unions, including a strike action threat be suspended pending consultations. Ndabeni-Abrahams' spokesperson, Mish Molakeng, said the department was confident that a solution to the impasse would be found.

"We have no doubt that a way forward will be found given that all parties met in good faith and demonstrated commitment towards finding a solution," said Molakeng. 

The SABC retrenchement saga has not been without contradictions. Last week, the head of news current affairs, Phathiswa Magopeni, announced that she would withdraw the notices.

The board on the following day reversed Magopeni's impromptu decision, and later came up with a 7-day moratorium. 

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