'They are killing us' - SABC staff uncertain about the future

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SABC building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. (Veli Nhlapo/Gallo Images)
SABC building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. (Veli Nhlapo/Gallo Images)
  • The public broadcaster plans on retrenching hundreds of its workers.
  • One employee told News24 that staffers do not want to leave.
  • The SA National Editors Forum called on the SABC to ring fence key posts.

Feelings of uncertainty and fear roam the corridors in the newsrooms of the SABC after employees received retrenchment notices. 

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, Fin24 reported.

LIVE UPDATES | Unions to give update on strike at SABC as crisis shows no sign of ending

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.

The SABC was planning to retrench around 400 workers, it announced on Wednesday. The broadcaster was also considering a three-year salary freeze; reducing employee leave from 35 days to 28; stopping the cashing in of leave; and reducing sick leave from 30 days a year to the 36 days in three years stipulated by law.

"People are traumatised and emotional. Many are uncertain [about] what exactly is going on as there's no real consultation or clarity from anyone. It is very doom and gloom at the end of the year with people just doing the work out of fear, more than anything else," said a news reporter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, some employees refused to go on air after receiving notice of plans to retrench staff members. Support followed from unions and the public after videos of employees pleading with management to save jobs were circulated on social media. 

"We are still holding on, not sure what will finally happen. The mood is that of uncertainty not knowing what will happen to who and when, but we continue to work until further notice," said another employee. 

No one knows where they stand

At commercial radio station 5FM, only three of its 14 permanent staff members didn't receive retrenchment notices, while at popular Afrikaans station RSG, 12 of the 14 permanent staff members were impacted by the restructuring process.

Fin24 reported on Tuesday that 96% of SABC Africa staff, a service dedicated to continental news, had been served with redundancy letters. Only four positions were not affected. 

An employee with more than 30 years' service told News24 staff members were despondent and uncertain about the future:

No one knows where they stand. It's difficult to imagine what's going to happen next. People are still doing their work but it's hard to stay motivated.

The employee said that staff had known "for some time" that retrenchments were imminent. 

'They are killing us'

Another senior employee told News24 that, in some cases, three management positions that required disparate skills sets would be merged into one position, which anyone at the SABC could apply for. 

"We have no idea what the salary for those positions will be. It could be 50% of what we're earning now, we just don't know. If you end up being appointed, it will affect your pension and other benefits.

"They are killing us. They are getting rid of people with vast experience which will leave a terrible void. News people have kept the fires burning during all these years of turmoil.

"We do not want to leave. The way this process is being handled is insane."

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, met with the board of the SABC to "implore" them to preserve jobs after employees refused to accept the planned retrenchments, Fin24 reported. 

The SA National Editors Forum, meanwhile, said it would seek a meeting with SABC management, and urged the broadcaster to ring fence key posts.

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