LABOUR: Unions, Media24 Consult On Retrenchments
Recent Western Cape Business News
Trade union Solidariteit and the Broadcast, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers' Union (Bemawu) are currently in consultation with Cape Town-based Media24 over the possible retrenchments of 90 staffers in the media company's newspaper departments.
The parties have had four formal consultations during the 60 days of the consultation process. This comes after Media24 informed staff members in November 2008 about company plans to cut 10%-20% of its editorial staff at its Afrikaans newspapers Die Burger, Beeld, Volksblad and Rapport.
Lutfia Vayej, head of corporate communication at Media24, says “The newspaper division confirms that it is at an advanced stage with its restructuring process, which includes the redundancy of some positions. We have been generous in our approach to staff and have complied fully with the applicable consultation requirements and law.”
The number of Media24 members at Bemawu has increased from 20 to 200 in the past three months, according to the union's president, Hannes du Buisson, who adds: “By law, Media24 has to enter into consultation with us, as our members are opposed to the retrenchments at the company. But we are not getting the kind of cooperation we would like from them.
“We sent them a letter requesting information that we need before we can start making proposals. Media24's response was very vague and they refused to answer some of the questions, stating that the information is 'confidential'.”
The information Bemawu requested includes details about the process by which staffers, who received retrenchment letters, were identified. “We believe that staff members were selected for possible retrenchment which is unfair, this borders on favouritism. All staff should receive the retrenchment letter and it should be based on the principle of 'first in, first out'.”
Du Buisson claims there are inconsistencies in the information presented by Media24. “The structure that Media24 planned to implement in December, with regards to the number of people that should lose their jobs and the positions that are being targeted, has changed. Their plans are not consistent.”
Vayej says claims that Media24 has been uncooperative and inconsistent are regarded as "vexatious”.
Spokesperson for Solidariteit, Jaco Kleynhans, does not agree that Media24 has been unaccommodating. “They answered all of our questions and gave all the information we need.”
Solidariteit, to which “a few hundred staffers” at Media24 belong, has had four formal consultation meetings with Media24. “We are currently in a classical negotiation where they need to prove why they plan to retrench their staff.”
Kleynhans says he does not agree with Media24's reasoning for the retrenchments. “International newspaper trends show that sales are down, due to the increase in the use of the internet. Media24 anticipates that the same thing will happen to local newspapers, therefore they have decided to consolidate their products and cut costs.
“However, we have not yet seen a downward spiral in the circulation or sales of newspapers in South Africa. One cannot compare trends in the US and Europe to developing countries.”
Both unions are working towards negotiating with Media24 to find alternatives for the retrenchments of its members.
Du Buisson says: “At the end of the day we are here to protect our members. If we don't agree with what Media24 is doing, we will not hesitate to litigate.”
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