THE SABC is to enter into mediation with 1800 employees and pensioners in a bid to avoid a lengthy court case over its decision to stop paying its portion of medical aid contributions, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Business Day.

The cash-strapped broadcaster has already lost a case against 95 pensioners, including such personalities as Cliff Saunders and André Liebenberg, who sued over its decision to suspend its contribution to their medical aid schemes and scrap their cheaper TV licences without consultation. The present legal battle is being brought by the same lawyer, Piet Bester of Johannesburg law firm Blake Bester.

If mediation fails, the applicants will return to the South Gauteng High Court on Monday.

At issue is whether the SABC’s contribution to the medical aid scheme is a term of the contract of employment. According to the applicants’ court papers, the SABC’s executive committee issued a directive on June 2002 that new employees would not receive a post-retirement contribution to medical aid. This would not affect existing employees or pensioners. It continued to pay all employees retirement benefits until March 2004, when it “unilaterally” announced it would phase its medical aid contribution out over five years, with effect from June 2004.

Bester argues the decision to provide some staff with cover and not others is arbitrary and procedurally unfair as there was no consultation. The SABC argues the rules of the medical scheme and the percentage of its contribution have been amended from time to time without members’ consent or agreement.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.