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SABC needs R3bn...just so it can pay salaries

The SABC is in need of R3 billion for salaries
The SABC is in need of R3 billion for salaries
Image: FILE

The SABC needs R3-billion to avert “Day Zero” - the day the public broadcaster will no longer be able to pay staff salaries.

SABC bosses told Parliament that their financial situation was so dire that it would be able to pay some salaries in February, but if the government did not give the broadcaster the guarantee it needed to get credit it would not be able to pay salaries in March.

“The reality is [that] without the money being injected into SABC, we are in a dire situation and this SABC will collapse. Come March 2019, it will collapse,” said SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini.

The public broadcaster's board was appearing before the National Assembly's portfolio committee on communications to talk about the possible retrenchment of almost 1,000 employees. At the same time, its 60-day consultative process into the retrenchments was starting at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), with a CCMA commissioner facilitating the process.

“The dire financial situation is really the main driver for the decision to consider invoking Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act. Many alternatives were considered before arriving at this very painful but necessary decision,” explained SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu on Tuesday.

Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act deals with retrenchments.

Tsedu said: “A number of cost-saving measures have been implemented but despite all of those we are still faced with what I call 'Day Zero'.”

Tsedu sought to illustrate to MPs that the perception SABC bosses were too quick to arrive at retrenchments was untrue, saying that as far as they were concerned all options had been explored.

“We have negotiated terms with content suppliers; people who provide the SABC with content like Muvhango, Generations and Uzalo and who produce the content at own expense. We can't even pay them. We have negotiated terms, we owe them R20-million a month, but we pay them R5-million. So every month, the accumulation of the debt just keeps increasing,” he said.

He added that they had also negotiated terms with other service providers like Sentech, which gets 60% of its income from the SABC.

“We can't pay them and when we can't pay them it puts the entire broadcasting industry in jeopardy,” said Tsedu.

The broadcaster can't pay the Southern African Music Rights Organisation whose music it plays on its radio stations, nor can it pay Supersport for Premier Soccer League (PSL) games, nor the SA Football Association (Safa) for Bafana matches as it can't afford what Safa is asking.

The broadcaster has not renewed many freelancers' contracts and staff are up in arms because they can no longer get biscuits at work, something they used to have.

“Some days you go to SABC toilets and there are no hand towels because the costs have gone that deep. Last week a huge chunk fell from the reception of the Radio Park building…the people responsible for the maintenance of our buildings have been warning that there are cracks there and something is going to happen. But we don't have the money,” said Tsedu.

He said the SABC was only dealing with what is called “broadcast critical”.

“If there is a crack up there and it doesn't stop us from going on air, we will not fix it until that rock falls down. And one day, it is going to fall on someone,” he said.

Using the Cape Town drought as an analogy, Tsedu said: “The Overberg Dam has dried up in so far as the SABC is concerned... despite our prayers to the gods at Treasury, the rains have not come.

“Phase One was like releasing pressure, what Cape Town municipality called throttling people so that you don't get the water, even if you think you want to abuse it. We have throttled. We are now in Phase Two and Phase Three is the extreme one where the supplier dries up.

“As far as we can see in terms of revenues that are coming in and the projections we have, at the end of January we will get to a point where we will be able to pay salaries and a few other things. February, we might not even be able to pay full salaries. March is our ‘Day Zero’ if nothing happens here,” he warned.

SABC human resources executive Jonathan Thekiso said the Section 189 process would affect all divisions, all levels, including management, and all provincial offices. The organisation has identified 981 out of its 3,380 employees for retrenchment.

“The selection of employees to be affected will be based on an objective assessment of skills, experience, expertise and or qualifications. In a nutshell, it will be based on competencies and qualifications. The 'last in, first out' principle will apply where employees have similar qualifications and similar competencies,” said Thekiso.

MPs were not convinced.

They accused the SABC bosses of not doing enough to avoid retrenchments and demanded that they look at other options. They also called for “a proper skills audit”.

“What we need is innovation. I'm disappointed that you come here and talk about things that are falling. I am expecting that you would address issues at a macro level or strategic level,” said ANC MP Bongani Bongo.

The DA's Phumzile Van Damme suggested that the broadcaster should sell some of its properties, including its artwork, said to be worth about R400-million.

“Your plan makes absolutely no sense. You need billions and you are cutting biscuits. You haven't thought this through,” she said.

The SABC last had a skills audit in 2013 done by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and according to the bosses it was still relevant.

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