SABC under pressure as minister, unions push for alternative to layoffs

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The SABC describes the current financial crisis as 'the most critical for the future and sustainability of this 84-year-old institution'.
The SABC describes the current financial crisis as 'the most critical for the future and sustainability of this 84-year-old institution'.
  • The South African Broadcasting Corporation met with labour for the first time since suspending retrenchment consultations last week.
  • The SABC and unions will now have until next Monday to seek an alternative to layoffs.
  • Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union President Hannes Du Buisson said the union challenged management to be more open to alternatives. 

The South African Broadcasting Corporation's meetings with labour - aimed at finding a better solution to the broadcaster's financial challenges - saw unions pushing the SABC for more time to develop an alternative to retrenchment consultations, according to one union in the meeting.

Last week, pressure from employees as well as an emergency meeting with Parliament and the Department of Communications prompted the board to hold an emergency meeting where it decided to suspend the retrenchment consultations by seven days.

Unions have already pushed back against the section 189 consultations, with the Communication Workers Union kicking off strike action at the broadcaster on Friday and the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union seeking an interdict against the retrenchment process.

The threat of job cuts at the broadcaster has loomed previously, but restructuring has repeatedly been put on ice. 

CWU spokesperson Aubrey Tshabalala said the union would be in meetings with management at the SABC. Bemawu president Hannes Du Buisson said during the meeting, the union challenged management to be more open to alternatives other than pursuing layoffs.

"We met with the SABC and told them that we are not happy with the approach they have taken because their letter said they would only discuss alternatives. We said we have to discuss the structure and rationale that informs the alternatives," Du Buisson said.

Du Buisson said the union also took exception to the seven-day stipulation in the suspension to the retrenchment consultations and, even though management agreed to extend this to next Monday, the union said more time was needed to thoroughly discuss such a sensitive issue.

"We suggested that we source a mandate that the period be extended to 30 days, during which there would be a proper consultation. The meeting ended with management committing to go back to the board and get a fresh mandate in respect of that particular issue," said Du Buisson.

Options on the table

SABC acting spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said the public service broadcaster was using the suspension period to discuss possible options to resolve the impasse with staff members.

"It must be noted that the SABC is not in a position to discuss the contents of the meetings it holds with its stakeholders in the public domain. The details of all stakeholder meetings during this period will be confined within the formalised structures and not discussed with the media," said Seapolelo. 

As the SABC reopened the conversation about retrenchment consultations in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act last week, the board made it clear that the number of intended positions to be affected was reduced from an original figure of 600 down to 400.

Engagements at between the SABC board and the representative of the stakeholder, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, have also been ongoing. The parties met on Monday, joined by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi.

Ndabeni said the SABC board and its executive management had been urged to go back to the negotiations table with the unions to ensure that all available opportunities are thoroughly explored prior to engaging on a retrenchment process.

She said a functional SABC is in the interest of all South Africans, and that she is "determine to supports efforts aimed at finding an amicable solution to the problem."

Ndabeni-Abrahams and Nxesi are of the view that lay-offs must always be the last resort.

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