Comair’s expected relaunch on December 1 could be at risk.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is applying for an urgent interdict from the Labour Court to declare that Comair employees are not bound by the terms of the collective agreement signed during September.
The collective agreement was a key suspensive condition of the implementation of Comair’s business rescue plan and the airline’s business rescue practitioners made it clear at the time that the airline would be liquidated, with all 1 800 employees losing their jobs, if the agreement was not accepted.
The collective agreement, which was signed after much negotiation at the end of September by parties representing 50% + 1 of employees, outlined amended conditions of employment. Employees were asked to waive their right to claim for salary payments relating to the period the airline was grounded (they have not been paid since April) and to take an alleged 30% pay cut. The plan also outlined that another 400 jobs would be cut. Following the acceptance of the agreement the business rescue practitioners moved forward with plans to relaunch the airline.
“Numsa will be at the Labour Court today (November 19) to apply for an urgent interdict to prevent the business rescue practitioners at Comair from continuing with an unlawful and patently unfair retrenchment process at the airline,” advised Numsa General Secretary, Irvin Jim.
“In anticipation of the adoption of the BR plan, the BRPs negotiated and concluded a collective agreement with another trade union, Solidarity, and then tried to extend it to Numsa and its members, despite the fact that we are recognised as the majority union at Comair. The collective agreement compels workers to waive their rights to remuneration between May and December 2020 and to accept a further reduction in remuneration for 2021, in addition to agreeing to retrenchments. The Comair management threatened employees with liquidation and actively encouraged workers at the airline to resign from Numsa and join Solidarity in an attempt to secure majority status for Solidarity, thus employees acted out of fear, and resigned. It is most unfortunate that the BRPs (who Numsa claims have retrospectively doubled their fees) and the new investors, are not prepared to act honourably and fairly towards employees, but instead wish to maximise their future profits,” alleged Irvin.
A spokesperson for Comair responded as follows. “We don’t believe Numsa’s application has any basis in fact or in law and will defend it. While retrenchments are regrettable, what is at stake here is the jobs of the majority of Comair’s employees.”
Solidarity’s organiser of aviation and defence, Derek Mans, told News24 that the purpose of the collective agreement had been to ensure the continued existence of Comair so that as many jobs as possible could be retained.
“Solidarity has always consulted with its members and other employees on an ongoing basis and has always acted in accordance with their mandate. There were certain conditions the consortium wanted in place before it would commit R500 million (€26.3). Some of the conditions to be met were labour issues. They wanted 50% plus 1 of all employees to agree to those terms before they could commit. Solidarity and another union signed the collective agreement as we together make up more than 50% of Comair’s 1 800 employees. We have agreed to shorten the section 189 consultation process and accepted the rationale of why we have to go through a section 189 process. Comair is not sustainable (in its current form) because of the impact of COVID-19 leading to it not being able to operate and generate income,” said Mans.
Numsa’s application will be heard today and seeks to obtain the following relief from the Labour Court:
- To declare that the BRPs are acting in a manner that is procedurally unfair with respect to section 189A process, and therefore the employer must withdraw the section 189A notice and issue a fresh one in compliance with the law.
- Declare that Numsa is not bound by the terms of the collective agreement.
- Consult in good faith on all issues contemplated in section 189 and 189A of the LRA.