SABC retrenchments to be reversed, says exec as staff refuse to go on air

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SABC employees were on Tuesday locked in a heated meeting with management over planned retrenchments of up to 400 workers, with reports that television anchors could refuse to go on air.

The stand-off with management comes after employees had been embarking on lunchtime pickets over looming job cuts by the public broadcaster which is facing financial challenges.

The broadcaster's 24-hour news channel showed images of staffers locked in a meeting with management, which was called after more workers received letters of redundancies. Workers are also calling for management to resign and accuse them of "decimating Africa's largest newsroom" by introducing a new structure without consultation.

Management, however, says it has exceeded the prescribed minimum consultation requirements.

Anchor Thabiso Sithole confirmed on air that staffers might walk off and refuse to work.

On Tuesday afternoon, normal programming on the news channel was largely dedicated to the broadcast of the memorial service of the later auditor-general Kimi Makwetu, with frequent crossings to a staff meeting.

Later, SABC Group Executive: News and Current Affairs, Phathiswa Magopeni, announced that retrenchments letters issued to staff would be reversed.

Communications Workers Union spokesperson, Aubrey Tshabalala, which is one of the unions representing employees, described the retraction as "temporary victory" — adding that they would still push for a legally binding commitment from management that the cuts are off the table.

"As a union we would be filing a notice to strike as required by the law. We see Magopeni's retraction as a sign of bowing to pressure and we won't be surprised if they turn around and say the decision to withdraw the notices is invalid," said Tshabalala.

Cosatu national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the federation supported the pushback against retrenchments, saying unemployment figures in the country were "depressing". "What is more scandalous is that the government is leading the charge when it comes to destroying jobs at a time when it is supposed to be exemplary in protecting and creating new jobs," Pamla said. 

Pamla argued that retrenchments would weaken the public sector and "outsource an important developmental mandate to the private sector". SANEF, meanwhile, has called for the posts of key journalist posts, among others.

SABC Group CEO Madoda Mxakwe previously told Fin24 he believed the broadcaster would collapse without proceeding with job cuts. 

The public broadcaster has been dealing with severe funding issues in recent years, even failing to pay salaries on time last year. Government has in the last financial year extended R3.2 billion to help the company stay afloat.

On Tuesday, the entity reported a net loss of R511 million and net cash outflows from operations of R1.2 billion for the financial reporting period to 31 March.

* This story has been updated as further information becomes available. Additional reporting by Marelise van der Merwe

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