SRG SSR makes temporary lay-offs, MySports could follow suit

Swiss public broadcaster SRG SSR has temporarily laid off 600 employees due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Announcing the measure, SRG SSR said that it expects a “double-digit million” loss in revenues as a result of pandemic. Many sports and cultural events that SRG SSR airs – and provides the host broadcast for – have been postponed or cancelled and advertising revenues have fallen significantly, the broadcaster said.

Swiss telecoms operator UPC is also considering the temporary laying off staff at its MySports pay-television operation.

The SRG SSR employees affected are from SRF, RTS and RSI, its German-, French- and Italian-speaking arms, respectively, along with Swiss TXT, the digital subsidiary that handles the ‘Access Services’ and ‘Service Technologies’ operations.

SRG SSR said that the reduced working hours scheme is supported by the employees and has been implemented in conjunction with the Swiss Syndicate of Media Representatives (SSM) labour union.

The broadcaster said that the 600 staff would continue to receive 100 per cent of their salaries.

In March 2018, SRG SSR was forced to continue to rely on the public purse for funding following a referendum in the country. The so-called ‘No Billag’ initiative – referring to the Billag company, which collects the licence fee from viewers – was rejected by 71.6 per cent of the voters.

This resulted in the launch of a “savings and reinvestment programme” worth CHF100m ($103.1m/€93.7m). A fresh round of austerity cuts was announced in September 2019.

SRG SSR dominates the Swiss free-to-air sector and holds a wide portfolio of sports rights. These includes football’s Swiss Super League, the Uefa Champions League and Europa League, cycling’s Tour de France, ice hockey’s IIHF World Championship and Champions Hockey League, motor racing’s Formula 1, skiing’s FIS World Cup events and World Championships and tennis’ Australian Open and Wimbledon.

In the Swiss pay-television sector, UPC has warned of forthcoming lay-offs at MySports due to the Covid-19 impact.

Baptiest Coopmans, UPC Switzerland’s new chief executive, told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that temporary lay-offs were under consideration for the 40 MySports employees.

UPC pays around CHF30m per season for its rights to Switzerland’s top-tier ice hockey league (from 2017-18 to 2021-22) but the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign has been cancelled.

Coopmans said that UPC is in talks with the league about financial compensation.

UPC is fearful of long-term losses of subscribers and has waived the April subscription fee for MySports and offered vouchers for six months of “additional entertainment”, according to Coopmans.

Any lay-offs would not extend to UPC’s customer service department, Coopmans said, given the sharp increase in demand for broadband services and video content amid the Swiss government’s enforced lockdown.

Coopmans also clarified that the 120 UPC job cuts announced before the coronavirus crisis would still go ahead.