Retrenchment process unfolding at the SABC

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The mood is sombre at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as the retrenchment process unfolds. The public broadcaster has continued to issue letters of redundancy and surplus to affected staff following the conclusion of last month’s extended consultation process.

The SABC says it has reduced the number of employees who will be affected from 600 to just over 300. It says it has to reduce the wage bill to make the organisation financially sustainable.

The SABC started issuing letters of redundancy and surplus in November. However, following objections by unions, political parties, and civil society, it halted the retrenchment process to allow for further consultation last month:

Job cuts to go ahead

Workers at the SABC had hoped their jobs would be spared, but the employer is adamant that job cuts must go ahead. The SABC has been issuing more letters this week.

Radio News Bulletin Copy Editor, Rhulani Baloyi, is among those who received the letter. “We were all shocked this morning. We got in at 4 o’clock, by 6 o’clock all the people in our team, the output radio desk got the letters to say we’re surplus staff members and we’re all shocked. We’re asking ourselves why are we surplus because people have died, people have retired, people have resigned in our department and those posts were never filled. So we all don’t know what’s going on.”

After spending years at the SABC, she is disappointed with the latest developments. Baloyi initially worked for the SABC between 1996 and 2002, before she rejoined the organisation in 2007.

“I was here when we covered the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I was here when Madiba passed away. When we worked 10 days without rest, we worked 12 hours. I’ve covered more elections than a lot of people in the SABC. Both as a reporter and as an editor. Even COVID-19, when we went into Level-5, we were all here. So it’s been a long road with the SABC. Anyone who’s worked for SABC News will tell you, you don’t just stick to what you’re employed to do, we do more than what we’re expected to do.”

She believes that it is simply a numbers game for management. “It’s very impersonal because they should have just called us and say you at the Radio News Output desk, this is how many you are. You know the way people compromise, people work six, seven days a week, because we don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough news readers, we don’t have enough bulletin compilers, we don’t have enough editors. This process is a whole process of numbers. It’s not a people-driven process. Those numbers they want to achieve are all that they’re interested in. And hence, the emails are just sent.”

Possible strike

The  Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it will serve the SABC with a notice to resume with strike action on Thursday. The union says it will initiate the action within seven days.

CWU General-Secretary, Aubrey Tshabalala says, “As they’ve been giving people letters we think that the number has exceeded that 303 so it is a process that is not transparent, firstly. But secondly, it’s a process that will plunge the SABC into a deeper crisis. We don’t believe that the process itself will resolve the financial crisis of SABC because it actually increases the expenditure of SABC and it’s for us now as workers not only to defend jobs but to defend SABC.”

Trade union Bemawu is meeting the Communication Workers Union to discuss a possible joint strike at the SABC to try and stop the retrenchments.

The CWU went on strike in November but suspended the action after the SABC agreed to extended consultations until the end of December.

“We have the CEO on record that this is a protected strike, therefore any employee at the SABC will be entitled to join in that particular strike and to participate in it. We of course hope that that won’t be necessary, we do not want to further destabilise the SABC. But if we’re not being listened to by the SABC. That will be now the quickest and surest way to deal with the SABC,” says Bemawu spokesperson, Hannes du Buisson.

Despite assertions by the unions that the SABC has been engaging in bad faith, the employer maintains that the Section 189 process has been fair and would withstand legal scrutiny.