National Union of Metalworkers South Africa general secretary Irvin Jim says that the R6 billion profit, which is an improvement of R452 million from the previous financial year, is in no small measure attributable to the performance of its members, Comair employees, and therefore they were entitled to share in the profits. Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency. ( ANA ).

JOHANNESBURG - Comair Limited said on Wednesday a strike planned by ground staff affiliated to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) could not go ahead legally as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was unable to hear the dispute between parties until January 2019.

This is after Numsa announced that workers were preparing to go on strike at international airline Comair from next week Thursday over a 12 percent wage demand and other basic conditions of employment. 

Comair operates and manages British Airways and kulula.com in South Africa. The company employs around 750 people as airport staff. 

Wrenelle Stander, executive director for Comair's airline division, said the company believed the mutual interest dispute was resolvable and approached the CCMA to assist in reaching a resolution between the parties. 

In October, the company was officially recognized by the Top Employers Institute as a Top Employer 2019 for excellence in employee conditions.

Stander said the CCMA confirmed on Wednesday evening that it could not hear the parties until January 2019, adding that Numsa did not have a certificate to strike at this time.

"Numsa may only embark on a legal strike once the CCMA has mediated and the parties have still failed to reach a resolution. We are relieved that our customers' travel plans are unlikely to be disrupted over the festive season. We will continue to engage the union to resolve both issues," Stander said. 

"We have contingency plans in place to minimize any disruptions in the unlikely event of a strike and will keep these plans in place until we are confident the situation is resolved. Comair is proud of its reputation as a top employer. We are committed to trying to settle these issues in the interests of our employees and customers."

Numsa is engaging Comair on a mutual interest dispute and a pay dispute. The union applied for and received a licence to strike for the mutual interest dispute.

Stander said since the CCMA would not have mediated by next week, the strike based on the issues in the mutual interest dispute would be unprotected while the pay strike would be illegal as Numsa did not have a licence to strike.

Earlier, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said they were the only recognised union under the airport bargaining unit with 389 members. Jim said Numsa was demanding a guaranteed 13th cheque, travel allowance, daily overtime allowance, a shift allowance to be 15 percent of basic salary and additional shop stewards.

But Stander said the company would only engage with Numsa about an agency shop agreement once the union represented more than 65 percent of airport staff. Numsa currently represents 52 percent of these employees.

Jim had also accused Comair of putting workers' lives at risk by forcing them to rely on unreliable methods of transport to work and after knocking off at awkward hours when the public transport system was often not operational.

But Stander said the proposed shift-pattern change was inefficient, costly and detrimental to employees as it would result in a loss in individual income, saying that less hours equaled less pay. 

"The salary discrepancies relate to a handful of employees and can be justified. Measures are in place to address these," Stander said. As for travel, shift and daily overtime allowances, Stander said these were "currently being negotiated".

- African News Agency (ANA)