[UPDATED] The South African Broadcasting Corporation will not be renewing its notice to invoke section 189 of the LRA. The move followed what the SABC has called “constructive and extensive engagements” with stakeholders such as the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, unions and employees.
Instead it would heed calls for a skills audit, the broadcaster announced on Thursday.
“All our stakeholders acknowledge the need to review the increase in costs, including the compensation bill, hence the need to conduct a thorough skills audit and related activities,” spokesperson Neo Momodu said in a statement.
“The outcome will provide the SABC with a fit-for-purpose structure, with clearly defined span of control, appropriate layers of management and appropriate skills and competencies for roles. This will ensure that the SABC meets its strategic objective of operating optimally and competitively in a digitised environment,” she said
The Democratic Alliance’s Phumzile van Damme, welcomed the move. “We stood vehemently against a Russian roulette styled retrenchment system. We hope in this process that the staff who may have lost their jobs without due cause, will now be protected,” she said.
But Van Damme said it was vital the SABC conduct a salary audit too. “It is a well-known fact that many of the SABC’s staff are grossly underpaid, a remaining legacy of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s tenure,” she said. “We trust that while conducting the skills audit, the SABC will also re-assess salaries.”
The ANC said it was pleased the SABC had elected not to renew the section 189 notice. “The ANC has always believed that employers, inclusive of state-owned enterprises, should exhaust all avenues before resorting to retrenchments,” said acting spokesperson Zizi Kodwa.
He said while the party appreciated the broadcaster’s challenging economic conditions, “we remain convinced that creative solutions can always be found through honest and open engagements among the affected parties. We are mindful of the fact that this step does not suggest that the SABC is out of the woods yet, but it is an encouraging step towards finding lasting solutions.”
In the last quarter of 2018, the SABC board controversially announced that the cash-strapped broadcaster needed to shed 981 permanent and 1 200 freelance jobs, as a major cost-cutting measure. CEO Madoda Mxakwe said the SABC’s wage bill was R3.1 billion, and its total expenditure R3.5 billion, pointing out that this was “not sustainable”.
But political parties to a man opposed the move. Newly appointed communications minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, came out swinging, saying she would “desist from all engagements with the SABC board” should it go ahead with the retrenchment plan.
The expiry of the notice of the consultation process between the SABC and organised labour in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) expired on Thursday. The SABC had formerly indicated to staff and union leaders on 6 December 2018 that the section 189 process would be held in abeyance until further notice.
Momodu hasn’t clarified how and when the audit would take place.
[Story updated 1 February with comment from Phumzile van Damme and Zizi Kodwa from the ANC]
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