Union applies for interdict to halt SABC retrenchments as staff picket

The SABC building in Auckland Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The SABC building in Auckland Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Veli Nhlapo
  • Bemawu, which represents some 1 300 SABC staff, says it has approached the Labour Court to apply for an interdict against retrenchments. 
  • The union says the SABC stopped all forms of consultation with it last month. 
  • Another union, the Communication Workers Union, has given the SABC until 5pm on Thursday to rescind the retrenchment notices or face a strike.

As one union with members at SABC threatens to strike over the looming job cuts, another - the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) - has launched a court process to interdict the public broadcaster from going ahead with retrenchments. 

Bemawu President, Hannes du Buisson, said on Thursday afternoon that the union has approached the Labour Court after the SABC terminated all consultation with the union last month. This, said Du Buisson, prompted Bemawu to file application to interdict the SABC from going ahead with issuing section 189 notices.

The union says it represents some 1 300 workers at the SABC. Du Buisson stated that the SABC had not consulted sufficiently with the union prior to embarking on the retrenchment process.

"There is no consultation currently taking place between us and the SABC," he added.

The public broadcaster has been bogged down by years of financial losses caused by declining ad revenues and low rates of license payments, as well as allegations of corruption and maladministration. Earlier in the week it sent notices to 400 workers to kick off retrenchment processes, in a bid to control costs and turnaround the company. Some may reapply for jobs, however. 

The decision to move ahead with retrenchment sparked outrage from SABC staff, some who threatened to leave the airways dark if the jobs cuts continued. Staff on Thursday picketed outside SABC offices demanding that jobs be saved. 

The decision to proceed with a retrenchment process led to an intervention by the shareholder representative, the Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who urged the group's board to save jobs. The board is set to meet this afternoon to consider the minister's proposal.

On Wednesday, the board's deputy chairperson Mamodupi Mohlala broke ranks with fellow board members by indicating that she was not in favour of the retrenchments. She further stated in an interview with broadcaster that the matter had divided the board.

The SABC retrenchment saga took an unexpected turn on Tuesday when the SABC head of current affairs, Phathiswa Magopeni, announced during a staff meeting that that she will no longer be issue redundancy letters to staff, leading workers to believe that the process would be halted.

However the board later came back stating that the process would go ahead as planned.

On Thursday the Communication Workers Union (CWU) gave the SABC an ultimatum to abandon the retrenchment process by 5pm on Thursday or face a full-blown strike on  Friday.

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