SABC needs loyal union lead­ers to serve

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The in­dus­trial re­la­tions mess that ex­ists within the SABC high­lights many of the prob­lems fac­ing the trade union move­ment in South Africa and the world.

At root is the unions’ loss of their demo­cratic tra­di­tions that have seen labour lead­ers hav­ing more in com­mon with the cor­po­rate world than with their mem­bers.

This is a world where union of­fi­cials, who are al­most al­ways men, “play the bosses’ game” and are re­warded ac­cord­ingly.

There are plenty of local ex­am­ples of those who have made the smooth tran­si­tion from state em­ploy to union lead­er­ship, then to par­lia­ment and fi­nally, some­times even in­stantly, into the Cabi­net.

Then there is the all too close re­la­tion­ship of big busi­ness with gov­ern­ment. This en­ables min­is­ters of state to move seam­lessly from par­lia­ment to the board­rooms of ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions.

That is the broad pic­ture, but the con­tained chaos at the SABC has its own pe­cu­liar­i­ties.

How­ever, it too is cer­tainly a far cry from that line in the great trade union bal­lad: “One is work­ers’ unity and ev­er­more shall be so.”

There seems to be lit­tle gen­eral unity and sol­i­dar­ity among work­ers and the two unions that re­main in place at the pub­lic broad­caster.

Many, per­haps most, work­ers in some sec­tions are not only not unionised, but they are also not clas­si­fied as em­ploy­ees – high­light­ing again the is­sue of out­sourc­ing.

But like the SABC 8 who stood up against cen­sor­ship last year and were sacked, the work­ers have had enough of man­age­rial ar­ro­gance, cor­rup­tion, bungling and in­com­pe­tence. How­ever, they also tend to be wary of trade unions.

The sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated be­cause while the cor­po­ra­tion was be­ing bankrupted, the bosses handed out some largesse along with of­ten elab­o­rate prom­ises in­clud­ing, for ex­am­ple, R50 000 lump sum pay­ments to mu­si­cians.

Long-term free­lance or con­tract work­ers were also promised per­ma­nent jobs while the then no­to­ri­ous SABC chief ex­ec­u­tive, Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, awarded him­self three pay rises within a year.

Although the SABC em­ployed 164 peo­ple in li­cence col­lec­tion, this facet was out­sourced and li­cence rev­enues to the cor­po­ra­tion steadily de­clined.

Mean­while, no­body fol­lowed the money and de­spite the above-in­fla­tion pay rises promised and de­liv­ered with lit­tle re­gard for the par­lous state of SABC fi­nances, the unions re­mained largely mute.

This de­spite the fact that then pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela had – in 2014 – called for ac­tion to be taken against Mot­soe­neng and other se­nior staffers.

Madon­sela found that Mot­soe­neng’s ap­point­ment was ir­reg­u­lar, as were his salary in­creases.

He had also sys­tem­at­i­cally purged dis­sent­ing staff mem­bers.

Against this back­ground, the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers’ Union (CWU) joined a Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng Coali­tion that cam­paigned to sup­port Mot­soe­neng.

Broad­cast­ing, Elec­tronic, Me­dia and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union mem­bers looked on aghast, but the union did not ad­e­quately re­act. As a re­sult, there was lit­tle union re­cruit­ment.

Two years later, as the eight were sacked, the CWU staged an an­niver­sary gala din­ner and in­vited Mot­soe­neng and his equally de­fi­ant and ar­ro­gant su­pe­rior, com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Faith Muthambi as guests of hon­our.

The new board in­her­ited quite a toxic po­lit­i­cal mix, along with a debt of

R165 mil­lion. The gov­ern­ment is still try­ing to con­trol the man­age­ment and di­rec­tion of the in­sol­vent pub­lic broad­caster.

Be­cause of the dire sit­u­a­tion, the board pro­posed a pay freeze un­til the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion could be sta­bilised.

This saw the Broad­cast­ing, Elec­tronic, Me­dia and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union and the CWU briefly joined to­gether to an­nounce a strike be­fore fall­ing out with one an­other amid ac­cu­sa­tions of sab­o­tage, back-stab­bing and min­is­te­rial in­ter­fer­ence.

It’s a mess, but work­ers united could still act to­gether to en­sure that the SABC be­comes what democrats ev­ery­where would wish it to be.

It has the po­ten­tial to be­come the pri­mary com­mu­ni­ca­tions medium in the service of the peo­ple as a whole.

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