138 claim SABC ‘plotted’ dismissals
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”.