Unions say SABC must test online streaming market before deciding on job cuts

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At SABC offices across the country, more than 3 000 staff members were stunned last week when they received emails warning them of looming retrenchments, which will affect at least 600 employees.
At SABC offices across the country, more than 3 000 staff members were stunned last week when they received emails warning them of looming retrenchments, which will affect at least 600 employees.

  • Unions at the SABC say the public service broadcaster failed to consult employees regarding its turnaround and retrenchment plans.
  • CWU secretary-general Aubrey Tshabalala says the union had recommendations for the SABC to reform without cutting jobs.
  • Bemawu president, Hannes du Buisson, says unless the process of consultation is done, SABC cannot be allowed to continue with retrenchments. 


Unions at the South African Broadcasting Corporation have told Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications that the public service broadcaster failed to consult employees about its turnaround and retrenchment plans.

The unions want the SABC to modernise to generate revenue from the online streaming market and upskill staff before it resorts to retrenching staff to save costs. 

The SABC announced plans to retrench staff last year, citing skills redundancy and an inability to keep up with wage expenses. In October, the SABC received a R2.1 billion portion of its R3.2 billion bailout from government. The SABC plans to retrench 600 staff and 1 200 freelancers.

The Communication Workers Union and the Broadcast, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union on Wednesday briefed the committee on the second of two meetings this week aimed at getting an update on the public broadcaster's turnaround plan.

On Tuesday, Deputy Minister of Communications, Pinky Kekana, told the committee that after meeting with unions and the board, the department found that unions at the SABC were indeed not adequately briefed on the Section 189 process, or other operational developments. 

Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act allows employers to enter into a consultation process to guide retrenchments if the employer can provide compelling reasons to cut jobs.

CWU secretary-general Aubrey Tshabalala said the union had recommendations for the SABC to reform without losing jobs. Tshabalala proposed investigating skills development that prioritises upskilling existing staff.

He said the SABC needed to be more proactive about involving itself in the digital market as advertisers were moving online towards over the top (OTT) streaming services and further away from conventional broadcast.

"SABC has not been able to accumulate revenue from digital platforms. You must be able to generate revenue in that space to allow SABC to move forward financially.

"We also have to look into the area of the OTTs. This area is the least regulated. Netflix and other platforms bringing content into the market and are not regulated. We want a regulated OTT space," said Tshabalala.

Tshabalala said the SABC needed to leverage its relationship with government as the "unfunded mandate" was seen as an obstacle, but SABC management did not see the "massive revenue creation opportunity" in it.

"You find a massive viewership and listenership when it comes to government events and announcements around Covid-19. So that is a massive opportunity that is also missed for marketing and advertising," Tshabalala said.

He said the SABC has given indications that it wants to retrench staff without doing the skills audit it promised. He added that by doing this and failing to innovate, SABC leadership would be punishing retrenched workers for their own failures.

"SABC has not consulted anyone. They have just isolated and enclosed themselves without any discussions or consultations and that is very dangerous for the broadcaster and its staff members," he said.

Bemawu president Hannes du Buisson said in 1997, SABC retrenched hundreds of workers, only to reappoint most of them because of the resultant skills gaps. He said the retrenchment process as it stood was incomplete and flawed.

Buisson said unless the process of consultation is done, SABC cannot be allowed to continue with retrenchments.

"The SABC has already implemented its turnaround plan. A report from April 2020 shows that the overall turnaround implementation is 46%. Almost half of the SABC's turnaround plans which will result in 600 employees losing jobs have been completed before SABC can even consult," said Buisson.

Zolisa Sigabi of the SABC editorial forum said: "Our newsroom is seriously limping, because of the lack of financial and human resources. The Advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with the numbers of workers reduced because of restrictions and sickness."

Sigabi said other matters, including the skills audit and how the SABC arrived at the conclusion that 600 staff and 1 200 freelancers would need to be retrenched, were not clear and needed to be explained to staff.

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