SABC 'reluctant' to let staff work at home during coronavirus, union says

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The Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) has accused the SABC of being "reluctant" to allow staff to work from home and is generally dragging its feet in implementing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 at its offices.  

The union’s president, Hannes du Buisson, told News24 they had meeting with the broadcaster's management and the SABC will soon allowing what the union categorises as "vulnerable" employees to finally work from home during this period of fighting the spread of the coronavirus. 

The union alleged that the broadcaster had been reluctant to allow some of its workers to work from home. 

Du Buisson said "vulnerable" employees were those with underlying conditions which may make them susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.

Schedule staffing

The union was also calling for the broadcaster to draft staff rosters in a way that would minimise crowding at the offices.

"The SABC is moving at a very slow pace and every minute those employees spend at work increases risk they can be infected. There are, for instance, no thermal scanners at the SABC; they don’t check people for fever.

"They have introduced hand sanitisers, but we all know that’s not how the virus can be spread. It mainly gets spread by people sneezing and coughing, and people touching surfaces," said Du Buisson.

After meeting with SABC management, and following the announcement of a 21-day lockdown by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the corporation finally moved to put more measures in place. 

READ | Keep up to date with the coronavirus with our rolling coverage

But SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said the broadcaster had rolled out a number of precautionary and preventative measures to ensure the health and safety of all its employees and service providers.

"These plans were further intensified following the president’s announcement on Monday. SABC employees and stakeholders have been kept abreast of developments, and educational information about how to protect and manage the coronavirus has been shared continuously," Seapolelo said.

Stringent conditions

The broadcaster said its core business of broadcasting news and current affairs programmes, as well as TV and radio programming, would continue under stringent conditions. 

Seapolelo added that, to ensure broadcast capability outside of the Auckland Park campus, a disaster recovery site will be established. The site will be capacitated with numerous outside broadcast vehicles, which will cater for the television and radio broadcasts for a period of three months, starting from Tuesday.

"The SABC fully complies with the stringent measures announced by the president and will continue to monitor and re-evaluate the situation as it develops."

Bemawu, however, said it was unnecessary for the broadcaster to take steps only after the lockdown announcement by the president. 

"Other companies have already, even before there was any announcement of a state of disaster, released its workers to work from home - this is what one would have expected from the SABC," Du Buisson said. 

The union president added they were also concerned that the broadcaster circulated a communique requesting staff to disclose their medical information. 

"The SABC wanted employees to state their (medical) condition. I am following up on what exactly is happening and whether they are still required to put in that information. The last information we got was, for them to be released, they must continue to fill in that information," Du Buisson said.

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