Trade unions at South African Airways (SAA) have taken a new approach in their battle against plans by business rescue practitioners (BRPs) to retrench hundreds of workers. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
Trade unions at South African Airways (SAA) have taken a new approach in their battle against plans by business rescue practitioners (BRPs) to retrench hundreds of workers. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

Unions demand meaningful consultation

By Siphelele Dludla Time of article published Feb 26, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – Trade unions at South African Airways (SAA) have taken a new approach in their battle against plans by business rescue practitioners (BRPs) to retrench hundreds of workers.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) on Tuesday threatened to approach the High Court to interdict the BRPs from publishing the final business rescue plan next month if their demands are not met.

Last week the Labour Court dismissed an urgent application for leave to appeal by the unions as they sought to obtain an order blocking the rescuers from retrenching workers.

Numsa and Sacca said on Tuesday that they had written a letter to the rescuers demanding meaningful engagement during the rescue process in terms of the Companies Act.

The unions are demanding “meaningful consultation” and the disclosure of the draft rescue plan so that workers make submissions and propose possible alternatives before it is made final.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said they believed that the rescuers had flouted various aspects of the Companies Act in relation to the rights of workers during this process.

Hlubi-Majola said in terms of section 144 (2) of the Act, employees at SAA were preferred unsecured creditors of the airline.

“That means they are affected persons and, therefore, they have certain rights. It is clear that our members’ rights have been violated in terms of this BRP process, and the purpose of the letter we sent them is to enforce workers’ rights,” Hlubi-Majola said.

“It is our view that the BRPs have no right to publish any business rescue plan until they have first disclosed all relevant documentation to allow workers to engage in meaningful consultation, pertaining to the business and affairs of SAA.”

SAA rescuers, Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, are planning to publish the rescue plan of the cash-strapped national carrier by March 6.

Hlubi-Majola said the rescuers were attempting to railroad union members into accepting changes to their terms and conditions of employment.

She said the rescuers had sent letters to employees who will be affected by the closure of the routes, compelling them to agree to drastically reduced hours.

“They will be working three or four days in a week.

"We have advised our members not to sign these agreements as these are a direct violation of their rights in terms of the Labour Law,” Hlubi-Majoa added.

The rescuers drew the ire of the unions and government departments three weeks ago when they announced the closure of 11 domestic and international routes by the end of this month.

Their review also included proposed job cuts in a bid to restructure SAA into a financially sustainable entity.

Louise Brugman, spokesperson for the business rescuers, yesterday could not be reached for comment.

But labour law expert Michael Bagraim of Bagraims Attorneys said the unions were undermining the whole business rescue operations with their litigation.

“The unions seem not to learn for some reason or the other, and the (Labour) court told them to wait until something is done before challenging it,” Bagraim said.

“The whole idea with business rescue is that it stops all court cases, it puts everything on hold.

"The court appointed the rescue practitioners to produce a plan and if the unions were unhappy about the business rescue they should have opposed it then.”

Bagraim agreed with the unions on the Companies Act, but said that their demands to have a preview of the rescue plan was not their ambit.

“Workers are creditors and if they get retrenched they will get paid before most creditors,” he said.

BUSINESS REPORT

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