Union heads to court over SABC retrenchments

Johannesburg – The SABC retrenchment process, which saw hundreds of workers dumped by the public broadcaster, was beset with unfair procedure and substantive unfairness.

This is the argument at the heart of a dispute that Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) has declared over the corporation’s section 189 process, which resulted in over 600 workers losing their jobs in March as part of a restructuring process.

Bemawu was now headed to court to fight against the controversial retrenchment process, which was opposed inside and outside of the organisation.

“This serves to inform you we are in dispute of the S189 conducted by the SABC. Not only in terms of the procedure followed, but also in terms of the substantive unfairness. The dispute inter alia relates to the selection criteria, how that was applied, unfair requirements set for the jobs, unfair interview processes, unfair and unreasonable deadline extension of only certain staff,” a note from the union to the corporation’s management reads.

The union also argued that staff were unfairly excluded from applying for positions by advertising their positions at a lower salary scale, while the management of the SABC were rehiring people to perform the same duties of employees who were declared redundant.

Bemawu president Hannes du Buisson said: “Yes we are going to court”.

In another major blow, the public broadcaster’s economics editor Thandeka Gcubule-Mbeki resigned from her post, in protest against the retrenchment process.

“I further protest the brutality and the victimisation of many people through the Section 189 process that has led to a night of long knives at the public broadcaster, replete with trumped-up bogus charges, false accusations, outrageous instances of cruelty and a climate of fear and foreboding,” she said in the resignation letter.

“There has been unbearable crying and wailing – in the studios, in the bathrooms in the passages because of the unjust fashion in which the Section 189 process was used to conceal a putsch and a purge,” she added.

Gcubule-Mbeki added that she resigned to protest the “innumerable ways” in which the SABC, without conscience shirked its African Language obligations as stated in Section 6 of the South African Constitution.

SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said court judgements against BEMAWU have validated the corporation’s section 189 process as being procedurally fair and that all participating stakeholders were afforded ample opportunity to engage meaningfully.

 “The SABC is not aware of BEMAWU’s latest declaration of a dispute against the Corporation’s Section 189 process. The SABC is satisfied that the Section 189 process which the Corporation embarked on can withstand any legal scrutiny. This is confirmed by three Court judgements,” she said.

“On 2 December 2020, the Labour Court dismissed with costs BEMAWU’s application to declare the Section 189 process as irregular. Following this judgement, on 22 January 2021, the Labour once again dismissed BEMAWU’s application for leave to appeal with costs.  The Court ruled that there was simply no reasonable prospects that another Court could come to a different conclusion, based on the facts presented by BEMAWU and their failure to prove that there was a material failure in the section 189A (13) process of the LRA,” she added.

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