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SAAF cancels Denel aircraft maintenance contract - Solidarity

Union says posts of 523 aircraft specialists are at risk

Renewed uncertainty after SA Air Force cancels contract with Denel Aviation/AMG - Solidarity

There is renewed uncertainty over the posts of 523 aircraft specialists at Denel Aviation/AMG, as there is still no clarity on whether or not the South African Air Force (SAAF) will use some of these technicians, given that it has cancelled its contract for aircraft maintenance with the company. Solidarity is now demanding that Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula intervene and see to it that certainty is obtained regarding the employees' future at the air force.

Solidarity spokesperson Jack Loggenberg says the trade union has not yet received word on the 523 employees' fate from either Denel Aviation/AMG, or the air force. ‘Denel Aviation/AMG met with SA Air Force Chief, Maj. Gen. Zakes Msimang, last week, after which we were informed that the air force will definitely not be renewing its contract with Denel Aviation/AMG because the air force's financial position allegedly did not justify it. It is suspected that options are being considered to continue utilising some of the technicians in the air force, but there is no communication with Solidarity even though the trade union represents more than 300 of the employees.'

Loggenberg says Solidarity has not yet received a formal section 189 notice to indicate that a number of technicians or support staff, who work at the various air force squadrons across the country, will be retrenched. ‘If a number of the technicians will be utilised by the air force, a section 197 notice must also be issued for the transfer of contracts of service. The two legal processes cannot run concurrently and will have a vast ripple effect, given that the contract will expire at the end of March 2013.

This situation is cause for concern, as there is a possibility that the air force will not be able to pay the technicians it takes over what they are earning now. Should this be the case, they could be snatched up by other companies because of their scarce and critical skills and the air force would lose their expertise. Such a process could also be time consuming and should therefore already commence at the end of the month. We demand that the Minister of Defence intervene and convene a meeting with the air force, Denel Aviation/AMG and trade unions in order to make a decision and thereby give a definite answer to the employees who are at present facing the festive season not knowing what their fate will be.' 

According to Loggenberg, there is also a potential dispute between Denel Aviation/AMG and the air force concerning who would be responsible for the employees' severance packages worth millions or rands, should retrenchments be unavoidable. ‘In accordance with the contract the SA Air Force is responsible for the severance packages. It is uncertain whether the air force will, in fact, be responsible for retrenchments and subsequently the severance packages once the contract has expired. Denel Aviation/AMG maintains that the air force will still be responsible for paying the severance packages. Our concern is that more retrenchments could follow at Denel Aviation/AMG should it pay the severance packages. Denel has just gone through restructuring.'

The Department of Defence gave notice on 20 June 2011 that it was going to cancel its contract for aircraft maintenance with Denel Aviation/AMG. Negotiations were held to amend and possibly review the contract, but last month the air force unexpectedly disclosed in a letter that it had reviewed its decision and would not be going ahead with the new contract with Denel Aviation/AMG after 31 March 2013.

Statement issued by Jack Loggenberg, Spokesperson: Solidarity, December 4 2012

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