An ousted SABC union is trying to re-enter the playing field at the public broadcaster but it seems to be an uphill battle. Fienie Grobler reports.
The Media Workers Association of South Africa (Mwasa) has vowed to fight a decision in early August by the SABC to terminate its collective agreement with the trade union, saying there was a hidden agenda behind the move.
“We’ve always argued that the termination was not really about the numbers… it’s a very sad situation,” Mwasa general secretary Tuwani Gumani told TheMediaOnline, adding that Mwasa was the only independent union at the SABC.
“We are going to be engaging the SABC. We are asking them for a meeting within 48 hours from today [Wednesday, August 31]. We hope we are not going to meet any unnecessary resistance,” said Gumani.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the agreement with Mwasa was terminated because it did not comply with a regulation that the union needed to have 20 percent or more of employees as members in order to represent them in the bargaining unit.
He said he was not aware of any pending meeting with Mwasa.
“As far as we are concerned, Mwasa is not a union,” Kganyago told TheMediaOnline on Wednesday.
“What we have said to them, is that unless they come to us to say, ‘We have now reached the threshold’, then we will look at the issue,” said Kganyago.
He said that should the union meet the 20 percent requirement, it would have to re-apply to the SABC to be recognised as a union.
Gumani said the union was in the process of reconciling the membership numbers. “Effectively, the SABC has sent us on a wild goose chase… they have just returned to us and asked us to prove the evidence that we do meet the requirement to be in the bargaining unit.”
Gumani said there were about 3 000 employees at the SABC and that Mwasa represented at least 500 of them.
Mwasa maintains that the union and the SABC had in the first quarter of 2011 agreed that the threshold for all unions was set at 500 members per union. The reference in the collective agreement to 20 percent recognition for organisational and 25 percent for bargaining rights were therefore dropped as a standard measure, according to Mwasa.
The union had initially planned to take the SABC to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but decided to withdraw its case after the concerns it had were addressed in parliament, said Gumani.
Mwasa has been leading a campaign that the SABC be placed under administration, claiming financial and administrative failures at the broadcaster.
“All the issues that we had been complaining about, are now being taken up by the portfolio committee on communications in parliament, so there was no point for us to keep banging our heads [at the CCMA],” said Gumani.
The SABC board’s chairman, Ben Ngubane, told Parliament in August that the public broadcaster would need financial assistance for retrenchment packages, causing an uproar amongst SABC unions.
But a few days later, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced that it had been reassured by “SABC top executive management” that no retrenchments were on the cards.
“As CWU, we are delighted by the reassurance of the SABC top executive management to rectify the mistake made by the chairperson of the board,” CWU spokesman Matankana Mothapo said in a statement at the time after the union held a meeting with the broadcaster’s management.
“And as CWU, we will never allow any action by any employer including the SABC which is intended to destroy jobs in an economy that is already experiencing high levels of unemployment and poverty,” Mothapo added.
Gumani said the situation was bizarre. “The SABC had been misleading Parliament and the whole nation… it’s quite strange that they made this announcement that is completely at odds with what they said in Parliament.”
The government has had to come to the rescue of the struggling broadcaster many a time. It received a bail-out from the state of R1.4-billion in 2009.
Ngubane told parliament in August that the SABC had started paying the money back, with an instalment of R110-million in December last year.
But a senior treasury official argued that it had not yet implemented a cost-cutting plan, which was a key component of the state loan guarantee.
Parliament was told that the SABC had not reached its targets of increasing advertising and sponsorship revenue.