Jobs bloodbath expected at SABC

02 September 2018 - 10:56
By Aubrey Mothombeni and amos mananyetso
Hundreds of freelancers are set to be heavily affected by cash problems at the public broadcaster.
Image: Kabelo Mokoena Hundreds of freelancers are set to be heavily affected by cash problems at the public broadcaster.

The crippling financial woes at the SABC are set to cause a jobs bloodbath that will see more than 800 employees retrenched to reduce its R1.2bn annual wage bill.

Sunday World understands that the public broadcaster is in the process of reducing its humungous wage bill and one of the proposals on the table was slashing its 4000 workforce.

At least 3000 of the employees are full-time while the other thousand is made up of freelancers.

According to multiple sources from SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, several meetings have been held at different levels and by different departments in which the prospects of culling employees were discussed.

Insiders privy to the developments said the SABC took the decision following its new CEO Madoda Mxakwe's request to various divisions to find a way to cut the public broadcaster's salary bill.

The issue of retrenchments was discussed during an executive committee meeting last week Friday.

A senior executive said the SABC intends to save between R400m and R500m per year to ensure that its coffers are not overburdened by the wage bill when the bail out from government is processed.

"So far, indications are that we would get the guarantee from the government, even though it's not the amount we asked for."

SABC's new  CEO  Madoda Mxakwe.
SABC's new CEO Madoda Mxakwe.

However, the same source cautioned that the decision was not going to be welcomed by permanent employees, saying that staff members were already planning an internal rebellion to protest the additional responsibilities.

The source said the staffers would reject the idea, especially if it does not come with any additional income to their salaries.

Sunday World has already been informed that the decision to retrench staff was also tabled at the SABC board's annual general meeting (AGM) on Monday, where communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane was in attendance.

It's not clear if the AGM adopted the recommendation by the exco.

Meanwhile, it has also been established that Mokonyane and Mxakwe visited the SABC's Limpopo offices to address staff members.

Sunday World has learnt that one staffer posed the retrenchments question to Mokonyane who dismissed the claims, telling SABC staffers not pay attention to what was being said on the streets.

Mokonyane's spokesperson Mlimandlela Ndamase confirmed that the minister visited the SABC's Limpopo offices and that she had engagements with staff members as part of her outreach to provinces.

He, however, denied the issue of retrenchments was discussed at the meeting.

"That matter was not discussed nor was it raised in the questions and issues posed to the minister," said Ndamase.

He further said that the minister was not aware of the decision to retrench workers.

On the government bail out, Ndamase said the minister and the SABC board were still engaged in discussions with Treasury on finding short to medium-term solutions.

"Once finalised, such will be officially communicated," he said.

The executive said that government has only committed to authorise a guarantee of R2bn, instead of the R2.5bn the SABC requested.

Sunday World has learnt that before the exco meeting, Mxakwe had been on an internal crusade, meeting with various heads of divisions including news, advising them to find alternative ways to cut their wage expenditures in order the survive the current SABC cash crunch.

It is understood that those who are to be heavily affected by the decision were freelance workers, most of whom are attached to the news division, including the 24-hour news channel carried on channel 404 on DStv.

SABC sources have revealed that freelancers attached to the channel have been given notices stating that their services would no longer be needed as they were attached to the channel's contract with MultiChoice. The contract ended on Friday.

The SABC, which announced a new contract with MultiChoice last month, starting on September 1 2018, will now have to distribute responsibilities that were done by freelancers to its permanent staff to save money.

Parliament's portfolio committee on communications chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana said the SABC has not briefed his committee about the decision. "... we can't say if we endorse the decision or not."

Trade union Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers' Union (Bemawu) said it was shocked by the news,

Spokesperson Hannes du Buisson said: "... [we are] concerned that we still have to learn about SABC affairs via the media and we are extremely concerned that a decision seems to have been already taken without following processes prescribed by the Labour Relations Act.

"We have already engaged the SABC on an urgent basis. Bemawu will fight any retrenchments fiercely and will do everything legally possible to avoid the loss of jobs. It is sad that employees must pay for the sins of the past of executive management of the SABC.."

Communications Workers Union said it had not received any official communication from the SABC on the matter, but said the information was worrying.

"We will oppose any move towards that direction because we don't think that it will be a good solution to the problem. Instead of retrenching employees, the SABC should review its funding model," said general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala.

SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu said: "The SABC would like to reject Sunday World's speculative reporting. It is irresponsible and goes against all efforts to rebuild the SABC."