Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams hauls SABC top brass to meeting over job cuts

Minister of communications and digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has implored the SABC board to 'consider all possible options, with an aim to preserve jobs'.
Minister of communications and digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has implored the SABC board to 'consider all possible options, with an aim to preserve jobs'.
Image: GCIS

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams called an urgent meeting of the SABC board on Tuesday night following a heated staff meeting over proposed retrenchments at the loss-making state broadcaster.

Ndabeni-Abrahams, together with deputy minister Pinky Kekana and other senior officials in the department, met with the board and executive management of the SABC for them "to account to the minister on the merits of continuing with the retrenchment process".

Her office said the minister "took the opportunity to implore the SABC board to consider all possible options, with an aim to preserve jobs".

"This meeting also gave the minister an opportunity to hear from all board members on the proposed retrenchments at the SABC, and to also consider the alternative voices of board members on the matter".

Section 189 notices to newsroom staff have temporarily been withdrawn.

Plan to cut 400 jobs

This comes as SABC news employees at the head office in Auckland Park on Tuesday embarked on a go-slow, with some allegedly refusing to go on air as a heated meeting erupted. This followed an announcement of 400 planned job cuts, although staff said there were about 170 vacancies for which employees could apply.

The broadcaster on Tuesday reported a net loss of R511m for the year ending March 31 and a decline in revenue from R6.4bn the previous year to R5.7bn.

The SABC has a staff complement of nearly 3,000 employees. Earlier in the year, it forecast it might have to lay off 600 jobs for its survival. Its salary bill represents more than half its revenue and 45% of its expenditure.

The SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said it was concerned about  instability at the SABC after the announcement of impending retrenchments.

Apart from job cuts, the SABC also stated it would freeze salary increases for the next three years, the forum noted. 

'Do not compromise news delivery'

"Sanef calls on the SABC leadership to continue to fulfil its public mandate by ensuring its budget cuts do not curtail a number of critical services, including its African language and regional programming. We call for the SABC to ringfence core news and current affairs posts and not compromise its core public mandate of news delivery.

"Since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster on March 23 2020, more than 700 jobs have been lost in the media industry. In the first two months of the lockdown we saw the closure of two magazine publishers and 80 small print publications operating across the country. Sanef notes with deep concern that in many newsrooms around the country, journalists are simply not replaced, resulting in a diminished capacity to cover the length and breadth of the country."

The editors said with the prevailing tough economic conditions, advertising revenue has declined dramatically, and the bulk of digital advertising revenue leaves the country's shores to Facebook and Google.

"It is not just the Covid-19 crisis that has decimated the media sector. In the past three years, scores of journalists lost their jobs due to retrenchments, which diminished the diversity of voices in SA.

"We call on media owners to think creatively and responsibly about implementing new, sustainable business models  built on the integrity and the trust that our readers, viewers and listeners place in us to tell the country's stories without fear or favour."

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said it was "vehemently opposed to the looming retrenchments at the SABC".

'Fight the job bloodbath'

"We believe the state broadcaster should be keeping these workers so they can fulfil their mandate of ensuring they provide news to the majority of our people who rely on the SABC to access information. Cutting jobs will collapse the state broadcaster, resulting in the diminishing of the quality of news."

"Nehawu calls on all its members, workers and society at large to join hands in fighting the job bloodbath taking place in all sectors of the economy, including the public sector.

"We call on employers to consider different options for saving jobs and that retrenchments should be a last resort. We will not fold our arms while workers are sacrificed for profits, and we will gallantly fight for the job security of all workers across all sectors of the economy," said the union.

SABC's management will appear before parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Wednesday.

The communication minister's statement said this would enable them "to provide an account of the retrenchment process, and any contingencies they have in place to mitigate the current strife with employees and unions".

“I would like to call on the employees of the public broadcaster to exercise restraint and patience during this period of intervention by the department and parliament,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams. 

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