Johannesburg – The SABC has backtracked on its decision to retrench workers, withdrawing letters of dismissals on Tuesday following a meeting between management and staff members.

This comes as the SABC was planning to dismiss around 400 employees as part of the new newsroom structure, which workers claim they were not consulted about.

Following an emergency meeting between workers and the management, SABC group executive for current affairs Phathiswa Magopeni was forced to withdraw dismissal letters for “redundant workers” who did not fit into the new newsroom structure, which employees are saying was conceived and implemented without their consultation.

Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said the union had secured rights to embark on strike, and that the SABC would be plunged in a blackout this week if the retrenchment plans were not totally abandoned.

Cosatu has thrown its weight behind the SABC employees and called for government intervention to seek alternative ways to revitalise the organisation.

“Fixing the problems of the current crisis should not be done at the expense of workers through the intensification of exploitation, retrenchments, and the privatisation of public enterprises.

’’The real cause of this crisis is the pandemic of corruption and wasteful expenditure that is yet to be properly addressed at the SABC,” Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said.

Speaking to Independent Media, SABC group executive for human resources Mojaki Mosia stressed that while the restructuring process remained contentious, it could not be avoided as it was at the centre of reducing cost drivers within the organisation.

“There are three major cost drivers. The first is the salary bill and the second one is the signal distribution, and the third one is content.

’’If we appreciate what the business is all about, it is about content investment. If we do not invest in content, we will not be in the position to attract audiences,”Mosia said.

Unions have, however, rejected the move by the SABC leadership and vowed to challenge moves to fire workers.

The unions, who accuse the management of making employees scapegoats for their failures, have also pointed out that there were still vacant posts which the SABC which the workers could be allowed to fill instead of being fired.

Mosia, however, stressed that employees had to individually apply for the critical positions that are vacant in the new structure.

“Let them compete among themselves. We are going to ring-fence the process internally.

’’As much as we talk about 400 redundant positions, there are about 170 vacancies in the new structure, which means internal people can be redeployed but they need to compete,” he said.

SABC chief executive Madoda Mxakwe said the executive management under his leadership was also hard at work to ensure that governance was restored at the public broadcaster.

“The corporation was once again encouraged by the decline in year-to-year irregular expenditure, by about 40% and amounting to R200 million, compared to the R336 million for the year that ended in March. Year-on-year fruitless expenditure has decreased by 87% and that equates to R27-million,” Mxakwe said.

The public broadcaster indicated late yesterday that the dismissal letters that had already been sent to employees had been withdrawn following the emergency meeting.

Political Bureau