South Africa: SABC Makes U-Turn on Staff Retrenchment

South Africa's national broadcaster, SABC, has made a U-turn on its decision to retrench journalists en masse, withdrawing letters of dismissal on Tuesday following a meeting between management and staff members.

The SABC had initially announced plans to dismiss 400 employees as part of the new newsroom structure. However, workers claimed they were not consulted about the development.

An emergency meeting was held on Tuesday between workers and management, forcing the group to withdraw dismissal letters for "redundant workers" who did not fit into the new newsroom structure.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala warned the national broadcaster would be plunged into a blackout this week if the retrenchment plans were not totally abandoned. The union said workers would go on a strike if plans were not abandoned.

SABC group executive for human resources Mojaki Mosia said the restructuring process could not be avoided as it was part of efforts to reduce cost drivers within the organisation.

"There are three major cost drivers. The first is the salary bill and the second one is the signal distribution, and the third one is content.

"If we appreciate what the business is all about, it is about content investment. If we do not invest in content, we will not be in a position to attract audiences," Mosia said.

Unions have, however, rejected the move by the SABC leadership and vowed to challenge it.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has called on the government to intervene to seek alternative ways to revitalise the organisation.

"Fixing the problems of the current crisis should not be done at the expense of workers through intensification of exploitation, retrenchments, and privatisation of public enterprises.

"The real cause of this crisis is the pandemic of corruption and wasteful expenditure that is yet to be properly addressed at the SABC," Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said.

The SABC was once again encouraged by the decline in year-to-year irregular expenditure, by about 40 per cent and amounting to R200 million (US$13 million), compared to R336 million (US$22 million) for the year that ended in March.

The national broadcaster said year-on-year fruitless expenditure has decreased by 87 per cent, equating to R27-million (US$1.7 million).

The public broadcaster indicated late Tuesday that the dismissal letters that had already been sent to employees had been withdrawn following the emergency meeting.

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