Two unions appeared in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Thursday in a bid to prevent the business rescue practitioners of South African Airways from proceeding with what the unions claim is an “accelerated retrenchment” process for employees that does not follow legally mandated processes.
The comes after the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) lodged an urgent interdict with the court earlier in the week.
“SAA says every effort is being made to limit the impact of job losses. Then they also say, however, a reduction in the number of employees will unfortunately be necessary. It is explicit on their own version that this is not a mere reorganisation. It is termination of employment,” argued adv. Thebeka Ngcukaitobi, legal representative of the Numsa and Sacca.
Ngcukaitobi put it to the court that the national carrier is making plans to fire employees without following legal procedures set out in the Labour Relations Act, which stipulates that employers are not allowed to retrench employees without alerting parties involved for a period of 60 days.
The union’s legal action follows an announcement by the carrier’s business rescue practitioners earlier in the month, where they announced the cancellation of all of the airline’s domestic routes apart from the popular Johannesburg-Cape Town flight early in February. A number of international and regional routes were also cut. They practitioners said the cuts were aimed at supporting SAA’s transformation into a sustainable and profitable business, and were required to conserve cash.
At the time the practitioners said that “a reduction in the number of employees will unfortunately be necessary” due to the cuts.
“What they say is that they don’t have time to follow the time frames that are contemplated in the act. What they want is an accelerated process. They even say the timeline proposed for this process is much shorter than in business rescue… the agreements need to be sorted further to the publication of the business rescue plan,” said Ngcukaitobi.
In response to this argument, SAA’s adv. Andrew Redding SC said there is no evidence indicating that SAA will carry out the accelerated retrenchment and that no employees have come forward with claims of being retrenched.
“We all anticipate that retrenchments are coming. On oath, the business rescue practitioner says to the court ‘we are aware of the obligations of SAA. Whilst the focus is to ensure a profitable SAA, there is also every intention on our part as business rescue practitioners to ensure that SAA honours itself in reLation to its employees’.
“In that regard, should a process in terms of the act be in commencement, we will ensure that SAA complies with its oblations, including those reported in the collective agreement regarding the the Training Lay-Off Scheme.”
Redding said bringing SAA to court is “something of a publicity exercise on the part of the union” despite evidence provided. “There isn’t yet a [retrenchment] process that has begun.”
Judge Graham Moshoana said the ruling or report on the matter would be made on Friday at the Johannesburg Labour Court.