Communication Workers Union (CWU) welcomes the robust engagement that unfolded last night at the Communication Portfolio Committee, dealing with the SABC turnaround strategy that included the Section 189. The members of the committee raised a number of critical issues, which punched holes in the SABC plans to retrench. The issues raised in the Portfolio Committee are exactly matters that the union had raised, and the SABC management thought it can avoid these uncomfortable discussions and run to parliament to get easy approval for jobs bloodbath. We view this cowardice strategy of shortcutting the processes, as undermining organised labour and the laws of the country to persuade the agenda of commercialising the Public Broadcaster. In our meeting on the 11th of June 2020, we asked about the progress of the skills audit process, precisely to deal with the turnaround strategy comprehensively. The Public Broadcaster management informed CWU that the process is not yet concluded, and as a result retrenchments or any other matter related to workers was never discussed.
In the main, the parties spoke about the turnaround strategy on the following pillars,
· Digital Migration
· Online revenue stream
· Public Broadcaster Funding Model
· Unfunded (broadcasting) mandate
· Stringent regulations on the broadcaster
The meeting also spoke at length about the unnecessary use of service providers from legal to administrative areas. We believe that it is time for SABC to insource a number of these services because it has capacity at its disposal. It is also important to highlight that the parties had agreed on the aforementioned pillars, but seven days later; the employer recklessly went on to announce publicly without consulting with the organised labour. We view this as a similar strategy applied by Sipho Maseko at Telkom of using workers as a token to fight the government, in order to get more funding. We are in agreement with the ANC resolution on the Public Broadcaster subsidy and we strongly believe that the Public Broadcaster should have been assisted financially during the COVID-19 broadcasting. The Public Broadcaster has waved all its commercial programs to allow Ministers to deliver important messages on the COVID-19 pandemic, however; this meant a loss of revenue.
The private sector is not innocent in the SABC woes, a probe must be done on how the advertising slots are paid. We find an entrenched apartheid model on advertising score cards still used against progress and transformation, which is a matter that the state must address. Out of the top 10 radio stations in the country, SABC occupies 8 radio station spots with uKhozi FM, boasting with a 7 670 000-weekly listenership. However, if you had to study the amount paid for the same slot on a previously white listenership (private-owned) radio station and the pre-dominated indigenous language radio station that has millions of listeners compared to a few thousands, you will realise that the previously disadvantaged are still marginalised. These are imbalances of the past that are still yet to be addressed. The Public broadcaster TV News channel – 404 has leaped to the top of the pyramid in so far as news channels are concerned. This is a clear demonstration of the talent that the SABC has which now is endangered due to retrenchments.
Retrenchments are pre-matured
We agree with the sentiments shared by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that the retrenchments are pre-matured and are not responding to the short and long-term challenges faced by the broadcaster, as pointed out in our 5 bullets. We therefore insist that the process of the skills audit be concluded, and the outcomes will guide us on a proper restructuring thus including re-skilling and redeployment to new avenues such as new channels and online streaming.
The President’s sabotage
The SABC management escaped an important question by the committee, on the matter that was coined as sabotage. This was after a wrong tape of the President of the Republic addressing the nation was played on national television. The question was what has happened to the process and the SABC responded by saying that the matter is under the investigation, therefore, sub judice, however; it did not mention that a worker at a lower rank who had little or nothing to do with the matter was dismissed yet managers got a slap of a written warning and one executive acquitted, who is now suing the Public Broadcaster. The entire unnecessary exercise was done to cover up for the sabotage statement that SABC made.
Way – forward
Organised labour remains committed in turning things around at the SABC, and take the public broadcaster forward. We calling for the SABC to abandon its premature call to retrench workers and engage labour in good faith for amicable outcomes.
Issued by the Office of the General Secretary
CWU General Secretary
Cell: 061 481 1080