138 claim SABC ‘plot­ted’ dis­missals

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

An SABC in­ter­nal doc­u­ment has emerged de­tail­ing how the fi­nan­cially bank­rupt pub­lic broad­caster of­fered a con­tracted com­pany R5 000 for each guilty ver­dict de­liv­ered in dis­ci­plinary cases against 138 SABC em­ploy­ees ac­cused of med­i­cal aid fraud.

Unions rep­re­sent­ing the im­pli­cated work­ers have used this doc­u­ment as proof that the pub­lic broad­caster had de­nied its em­ploy­ees a fair hear­ing, hav­ing “pre­med­i­tated or plot­ted” to dis­miss them en masse ir­re­spec­tive of the truth.

An SABC at­tor­ney is cited in the same doc­u­ment as hav­ing ad­vised that if the dis­missals were chal­lenged at the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion (CCMA), the “SABC would be wise in di­rect­ing it to the labour court”. This was done and the cases are cur­rently at the court with no progress.

The pub­lic broad­caster, which has been bat­tling to stay afloat fi­nan­cially, was also aware it would need to be pre­pared to pay mil­lions to the 138 in pen­sions or be equally de­ter­mined to spend mil­lions more con­test­ing the dis­missals.

The 138 work­ers were dis­missed early last year, three months af­ter Tok­iso Dis­pute Set­tle­ment in­ter­viewed them about al­leged fraud and then gave them the op­por­tu­nity to make writ­ten rep­re­sen­ta­tions.

The unions ar­gued that the SABC de­vi­ated from its dis­ci­plinary code when it handed the case files over to Tok­iso in the first place. They were to ar­gue at both the CCMA and Labour Court that the dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses were ir­reg­u­lar and call for the staff’s re­in­state­ment. Oth­ers have given the SABC the op­tion to re­in­sti­tute charges ac­cord­ing to pre­scribed in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses.

The Me­dia Work­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of SA (Mwasa) in­tro­duced the leaked doc­u­ment to the CCMA pro­ceed­ings in sup­port of its ar­gu­ment that the SABC flouted the rules for guilty ver­dicts and dis­missal of staff. As a re­sult, the pay­ment struc­ture was cen­tred on the num­ber of staff found guilty in­stead of a con­tract fo­cus­ing on a pay­ment based on fair pro­ceed­ings.

City Press has seen the doc­u­ment, dated De­cem­ber 18 2015, re­flect­ing min­utes of the meet­ing where of­fi­cials from Tok­iso and the SABC dis­cussed dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures that were meant to only lead to guilty ver­dicts. Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, Tok­iso chief ex­ec­u­tive Tanya Venter promised to move swiftly on the mat­ter. “Ide­ally, by 18 Jan­uary 2016 the ver­dicts on guilt should be de­liv­ered... ” it reads in part.

Tok­iso was to be paid a to­tal of R690 000 for ver­dicts of guilt and a fur­ther R207 000 for the sanc­tions of the 138 work­ers. Tok­iso was set to make just over R1 mil­lion from the con­tract with the SABC.

Mean­while, the broad­caster’s at­tor­ney, Puke Maseru­mule, had cau­tioned the SABC about the pos­si­ble im­pli­ca­tions of en masse dis­missals, point­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity of dis­rup­tions to op­er­a­tions. He ad­vised the SABC to con­sider the “pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture re­in­state­ments and the costs as­so­ci­ated with that”.

He had also out­lined pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tives to dis­missals such as with­draw­ing em­ploy­ees’ med­i­cal aid mem­ber­ships, get­ting the ac­cused em­ploy­ees to re­pay the de­frauded amounts and or sus­pen­sions with­out pay, among other sug­ges­tions.

Mwasa gen­eral sec­re­tary Tuwani Gu­mani, rep­re­sent­ing 39 of the 138 dis­missed work­ers, said he be­lieved the “dis­missals were not in­no­cent”, re­call­ing a con­di­tion stip­u­lated for a fi­nan­cial bailout the SABC sought from gov­ern­ment about six years ago. The pub­lic broad­caster had un­der­taken to re­duce its em­ployee head count. He said this never hap­pened un­til a rea­son was found to fire 138 peo­ple “ir­reg­u­larly”.

Mean­while, the Broad­cast­ing, Elec­tronic, Me­dia and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union, which is rep­re­sent­ing 54 of the fired work­ers, said it was in the process of fil­ing its own doc­u­ments at the labour court. Union leader Hannes du Bois­son said they were con­vinced that “the hear­ings were rigged by Tok­iso” and that the dis­missals were “pre­med­i­tated”.

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