South African Airways is in the midst of carrying out a business rescue plan. The financially struggling airline is looking to cut some of its workforce in order to reduce expenses. However, this week we learned that two labor unions are taking court action to stop this from happening. According to South Africa’s Eyewitness News, a union representative says that they are expecting the Labor Court to hear their application today.
The parties involved
In this legal battle there are several parties involved, including the following:
NUMSA: This is the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. According to ch-aviation, this is the country’s single largest trade union. Speaking on behalf of the union is spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.
SACCA: The South African Cabin Crew Association, as the name suggests, represents airline cabin crew in South Africa. According to their website, this can include casual part-time, temporary, fixed-term or seasonal workers.
BRP: On the other side are the business rescue practitioners Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson. Hired by SAA to carry out the work, Dongwana is the director of a professional services firm specializing in “Corporate Advisory and Business Improvements & Turnaround services”. Similarly, Matuson heads up a firm that specializes in restructuring-related services, including Business Rescue and implementing turnarounds.
The court application
NUMSA and SACCA together have filed an urgent labor court application to stop the airline’s business rescue practitioners from implementing large-scale job cuts, accusing the BRP of ignoring the country’s labor laws.
“We’ve gone to court in order to safeguard the rights of our members and to ensure that proper legal process is followed if retrenchments do occur,” -NUMSA’s Phakamile Hlubi-Majola via Reuters
The BRP wants to enact job cuts sooner than the 60-day mandatory consultation period. This is outlined in South Africa’s labor law’s section 189 process. The purpose of this part of the labor law is to give employees the right to challenge the fairness of layoffs or to go on strike.
In addition to challenging the hastiness of job cuts, the two unions are seeking a second court order that would have the BRP implement a training layoff scheme. This was negotiated as part of a wage deal last year.
This scheme would have a government training authority pay laid-off SAA workers three-quarters of their salaries for a minimum of six months while they are retrained.
“The BRPs, together with the SAA management, have deliberately ignored this option and instead are pushing for mass retrenchments through the cancellation of routes,” -SACCA & NUMSA joint statement via BusinessDay.
The airline recently temporarily cut routes in order to conserve cash. These will begin on 29 February, with 8 routes cut from its international portfolio.
The two applications are expected to be addressed in South Africa’s labor court today (Thursday, 13 February).
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We reached out to South African Airways with a request for comment. However, no response was received from the airline at the time of publishing this article.