March 31 2009 -- After an expensive eight-year legal battle which was taken all the way to the Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein this week, 93 white ex-employees of the SABC - amongst them famous news anchors such as Johan Pretorius, Cliff Saunders and Andre Liebenberg -- have seen a confirmation of their rights to have the SABC pay 60% of their medical benefits, as had been agreed upon in their original early retirement pay packets.
The state-owned SA broadcasting corporation will have to now pay an estimated R250-million for all the legal costs -- as ordered by the court, including the retroactive payments of 60% of the pensioners’ medical aid fees, with 15,5% interest costs added…
The 94 ex SABC employees had been given the undertaking that the state-broadcaster would continue to pay 60% of their medical-aid scheme fees when they were coerced into signing 'voluntary' early retirement pay packets to get the white workers out of the SABC.
These SABC pensioners, known as the "Coop-Group" after their informal leader Fred Coop ex-personnel chief of the SABC, had agreed to retire under this agreement that 60% of their medical-aid fees would be paid by the SABC.
- However, in 2001, the SABC had unilaterally ended these contributions, i.e. they had broken their legal undertaking. This caused an eight-year-long legal battle, which resulted in High Court Judge P Blieden ordering the SABC to continue paying the medical-aid fees retroactively -- and he’d made it a punitive court order.
Moreover, the broadcaster was also told to refund all the money the pensioners had to pay from their own pockets ever since the benefits were suspended, as well as the interest at 15.5% per year.
Judge Blieden said in his ruling that as a "state organ" the SABC ‘ws expected to act ethically, to practise good human-resources management, to be transparent with information and to act impartially, fairly, equally and without prejudice in its service provision.
- "Unfortunately the facts of this case prove that none of the conditions were met by the SABC in its relationship with the pensioners.
- "The mere thought that costs are curbed by aiming at the rights of pensioners with regards to medical-aid funding is not only distasteful but unacceptable and dishonest," he said in his ruling in 2004.
Judge Blieden also rejected an argument from the SABC that the pensioners conspired before their retirement to ensure that "white managers in the SABC" resigned with benefits to which they were not entitled, as "totally scandalous and libellous".
Piet Bester from the firm Blake Bester Inc, which acted on behalf of the pensioners, described the verdict on Wednesday as a "strong signal to all employers in the country that they cannot unilaterally and without negotiation" tamper with employee and pensioner benefits.
Moreover, the SABC's application against this decision was denied by the Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein this week. They will now have to cough up, with 15,5% interest…
Meanwhile a second group of 1,000 pensioned-off former SABC workers are also ready to sue the national broadcaster's decision to phase out their medical-aid benefit payments over the next five years. Interpreted from report by senior editor Philip de Bruin of Beeld newspaper.
Cliff Saunders background as a spy: