Retrenchments won't fix SABC, unions warn

Labour has expressed shock at the SABC's announcement of possible retrenchments in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, questioning whether the broadcaster will be in a state to cover the elections in 2019.

On Monday, the public broadcaster announced possible retrenchments and restructuring that could affect 981 employees across multiple divisions.

Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union, told Fin24 the union was concerned that the SABC might be facing a "repetition of the McKinsey process in 1997".

Twenty-one years ago, the public broadcaster had been advised to cut nearly 1 000 staff in a cost-cutting measure but had to re-hire several of them (reportedly at higher salaries) as their skills were needed, Du Buisson said.

"Our concern is that the SABC may not be in a position to comply […] and will not be able to give proper coverage to that particular election," Du Buisson told Fin24.

Both Du Buisson and Communication Workers' Union of South Africa General Secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said they were concerned about future staff prospects.

While Du Buisson said staff being hired now could end up being affected by the retrenchments, Tshabalala said a migration to digital would require more manpower. Retrenchments under these circumstances were "short-sighted", he told Fin24.

'Deal with the funding model'

CWU was "shocked" to learn that the SABC had publicised a possible number of affected staff, he said, describing the move as "basically bizarre".

"We are still awaiting the dates to engage with them [the SABC]," he said.

The SABC confirmed on Monday that it and labour had agreed to appoint a facilitator from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to consult on the restructuring, which could affect 981 jobs.

The CWU believed the first thing to address was the proportion of management to staff, Tshabalala said.

"We have also raised the question of how to keep the SABC afloat," he told Fin24. "Cutting staff does not respond to that question. What happens next year?

"We have to deal with the funding model. We have to bring in the regulators."

In its statement, the SABC said it had considered all other alternatives and was open to hearing any other ideas from staff.

"The current dire financial position of the SABC is well known, and a matter of public record. It does not matter what the cause of this may have been in the past, as the current reality is that unless drastic measures are taken to try [to] restore the financial viability of the SABC, it would as an organisation simply not be financially viable going forward.

"Added to this, a number of irregular and unlawful operational decisions made by former senior executives need to be remedied," the SABC said.

Its previous cost-cutting attempts had been "completely insufficient" to avoid restructuring, the broadcaster added.

These included securing supplier and budget cost saving of close to R60m, and ending contracts with some 1 200 freelancers.

The SABC proposed a selection process where an "objective assessment of the skills, experience, expertise and/or qualifications of employees" would be used to select candidates for the remaining jobs.

Employees would indicate which positions they were interested in, be subjected to an interview process, and be selected for placement based on highest scoring.

This selection process had not been finally decided upon, and employees were invited to propose alternatives, the SABC said.

The aim was to finalise the consultation process by January 31, 2019, the SABC said. In that case, those whose employment was terminated at the end of that consultation process would then be given notice with effect from 1 February 2019.

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