SABC will face stiff union resistance if it hopes to retrench workers

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will face fierce opposition from unions in its bid to shed some dead weight in the ailing organisation, as it attempts to recover from years of financial decline.

SABC executives are expected to go back and consult with trade unions and the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) on its turnaround strategy after facing a lashing in parliament this week.

Community Workers Union spokesperson Aubrey Tshabalala says when unions successfully halted planned retrenchments two years ago, it was agreed between unions and the employer that no jobs should be lost until a skills audit had been conducted to determine where the broadcaster could stand to lose workers, and where there was a skills shortage.

Unions are still calling for this approach, but this time, with more urgency as the changing landscape of broadcasting threatens to eat away at the state broadcaster’s market share. He stresses that the SABC could not afford to produce a turnaround strategy without all stakeholders being consulted.

According to Tshabalala, it is understood that the SABC is looking to retrench anywhere from 600 permanent jobs to around 1,000 jobs, which he says is dangerous to do without a skills audit.

Tshabalala argues that the broadcaster is failing to make potentially good revenue streams work, rendering much of their efforts wasteful.

“The SABC has moved to the online space and this is a very good move, but they have not produced a single cent from that so it is just wasteful expenditure. We need to be competitive with other online broadcasters. We said the government is also not regulating the OTTs properly. They broadcast content and at the same time they are not generating jobs proportional to the revenue they are making.

“They are not paying a broadcasting levy and they are not creating any broadcasting infrastructure in this country. They are mostly internationally based.”

He says the restrictions faced by the state broadcaster in this space compared to private entities dwarfed the SABC as a serious competitor.

This week, the Portfolio Committee on Communications reaffirmed its earlier position that retrenchments at this stage are premature. This after being briefed by the CWU, the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu); and the Editorial Forum of the SABC on its intention to implement section 189 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

Committee Chairperson Boyce Maneli said the committee discovered during these presentations that the SABC did not consult with stakeholders and therefore, was not in possession of all the answers on the subject.

The committee sent SABC executives back to the drawing board calling on management to hold proper consultations before presenting on the section 189 process.

“After listening to the labour unions yesterday, the committee became more resolute than ever that retrenchments should be put on hold to allow engagements with all stakeholders in a transparent manner.”

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