Tuesday, October 30, 2018

SABC FIRING LINE. 'SABC staff morale at rock-bottom' over plan to axe thousands as execs and union reps talk about 'cutting heads', 'butchering 2 200 people put out on the street', a 'public jamboree', 'milking a stone', 'dire situation', and the unsustainable 'thick layer at management level'.

"SABC staff morale is at rock-bottom" say workers over the SABC's brutal plan to axe up to over 2 000 workers, with executives and trade union representatives who on Tuesday described the looming retrenchment and situation as "cutting heads", "butchering 2 200 people put out on street", a "public jamboree", "milking a stone", a "dire situation", and saying that the "thick layer at management level" is unsustainable.

The beleaguered South African public broadcaster plans to fire up to 981 of its 3 376 full-time workers and do away with 1 200 of its 2 400 freelance workers by February 2019 as the SABC in a massive crisis once again hovers on the brink of financial collapse.

Tuesday started off with a conveyor belt of SABC'ers doing interviews on the public broadcaster's SABC News (DStv 404) channel.

It began with Leanne Manas who interviewed SABC chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini on Morning Live on SABC2 who said "Even if we get a bailout tomorrow, we still need to tackle the cost structure, and the cost structure of the SABC is driven by a number of things. It's labour costs - that R3.1 billion".

(More detail about that interview and possible implications for SA's TV production industry here)

Madoda Mxakwe, SABC CEO, in an interview with SABC News on Tuesday afternoon revealed that freelance workers cost the SABC R25 million per year, SABC executive directors are paid R12 million per year, and that the SABC's group executives are paid R25 million per year.

It means that the SABC's small group of top executives are paid as much as the 2 400 freelance workers employed by the SABC.

"Then there's a very thick layer at management level. You have about 495 managers and the cost of that is about R620 million," said Madoda Mxakwe.

With 3 376 full-time workers, it means that the SABC has one manager for every 7 people.

"What is very clear is that the organisation cannot be sustainable with this current structure."

Madoda Mxakwe said "we have a bloated structure and it doesn't make sense".

"We are now in a dire financial situation. And as a broadcaster we are not able to meet our obligations financially on a month-to-month basis and essentially that affects our ability as a national broadcaster in terms of the public mandate that we have."

Madoda Mxakwe was asked what else the SABC is cutting besides staff. "It's a lot of things. We are looking at travelling, we're looking at accommodation. All of these." He said it's "operational" and that "there's a lot of things that we are doing there".

Hannes du Buisson, Bemawu president, representing the biggest trade union inside the SABC, said Bemawu is shocked and saddened by the decision. "To cut heads, to butcher about 2 200 people, put them out on the street - it's a quick solution but that is not necessarily the correct solution."

Hannes du Buisson told SABC News in an interview on Tuesday that "there seems to be something sinister about this whole process. It seems that the current SABC management are hell-bent to get rid of current SABC employees and then want to fill those positions with other people from outside the SABC".

Hannes du Buisson said SABC staffers are "gravely concerned" since South Africa's national election is coming up in 2019. "The SABC traditionally would hire more people for that particular period of the election".

"Going into election coverage with SABC staff morale at rock-bottom is not going to serve the public of South Africa."

Aubrey Tshabalala, secretary-general of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) said the trade union was similarly shocked by the SABC's decision to start with planned retrenchments "and what we term as a public jamboree".

"This management seems to have run out of ideas," he said. "When we look at these managers we are basically milking a stone here."

Aubrey Tshabalala said over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Showmax, Netflix South Africa, Amazon Prime Video and others "broadcasting for free in this country they must pay a certain levy to balance the equation in terms of the funding model of the SABC".

"It must sink in in these executive members this is what you're driving: A public broadcaster. So if they are not fit to run a public broadcaster, they must tell us so that we can look into that area."

Jonathan Thekiso, the SABC's group HR boss, said  the SABC is also "looking to claw back in excess of R60 million" from former and existing executives and staffers at the broadcaster "which is as a result of irregular appointments, irregular salary increases and irregular promotions".

From the now-fired former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng the SABC wants "back an amount in excess of R32 million" said Jonathan Thekiso.

Asked about staff and executive who were fired, decided to leave and got purged under Hlaudi Motsoeneng's reign of terror at the SABC with the help of so-called "Hlaudi-enforcers", Jonathan Thekiso said "the SABC needs to ensure that it extends apologies to those respective employees who got purged, who were compromised as a result of activities of the previous administration".

"So the SABC is in the process of issuing such apologies to the respective people."

About the SABC's planned firing of staffers, Jonathan Thekiso said "the SABC's wage bill is sitting at almost half of revenue". He said "the SABC right now is in a very, very bad shape. We are in a dire financial situation right now and one of the major cost drivers is essentially our wage bill."

Asked about why the salaries of top SABC executives are not being revealed, Jonathan Thekiso said "we have been very clear that the issue of divulging the salaries of senior executives" can't happen because it gets published in the SABC's annual report and must first be audited.