NEWS & ANALYSIS

NUMSA condemns Comair for failing to pay workers their salaries

Union says Business Rescue Practitioners are seemingly a law unto themselves

NUMSA condemns Comair for failing to pay workers their salaries

27 May 2020

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns the management of Comair for the fact that workers have still not been paid their salaries. Employees only received their basic salary at the end of March, and in the month of April, Comair used employees annual leave to pay their salaries. As we speak workers have not received any salary for the month of May and there is no explanation as to when payment will be made. The CEO claims that they applied for relief from the Unemployment Insurance Funds (UIF) Covid-19 Temporary Employee Relief Scheme but to date we have no idea whether it has been approved or not, and our members are frustrated because there is no clarity on when this will be paid – if at all. Annual leave has been unilaterally taken from employees in order to cover for salaries in April. We believe this was done to ensure that workers exhaust all their leave, so that when retrenchments do come, the company does not have to pay out their leave.

This is made worse by the fact that Comair has unilaterally suspended conditions of employment for its staff, and it is our view that it is hiding behind the BRPs and the covid-19 pandemic as justification for this unlawful action. Conditions of employment can only be changed when there is an agreement from all parties through a meaningful consultation process. Benefits were gained through the bargaining process, but those have now been unilaterally revoked. Going forward, Comair employees that render a service will be paid a negotiated rate, without the benefits which they were previously entitled to in terms of their employment contacts, and this was not discussed with anyone, including the unions. The Companies Act is very clear that BRPs can only change conditions of employment by agreement. Prior to lockdown our members were served with section 189 notices, and it seems clear that the covid-19 pandemic is a cover for the restructuring which is taking place. We are also seeing a trend both at SAA and now at Comair where BRPs are seemingly a law unto themselves, who do as they please without accounting to anyone, especially labour. We condemn this practice in the strongest terms.

We met with Stander and the BRPs last week to discuss this and a range of other issues. Unfortunately, the meeting did not bear any positive results. She made a presentation and at the end of it, it was clear that she lacked vision and a clear strategy to take the company forward. Furthermore, they adjourned the meeting even before the issues we raised were addressed and later, they sent us an email stating that they did not want to meet with us again the following day as promised. Following our engagement, we are not left feeling confident in her ability to guide the company out of the difficult situation it is facing.

She took over a well-oiled machine from Eric Venter the former CEO, and at least under his stewardship it seemed that the airline had a strategy. Unfortunately, since her tenure at the airline, she has shown high levels of failure. She ran away from the meeting after failing to answer tough questions posed to her. She no longer wants to engage but keeps referring us to the BRPs. It is still unclear why they put the airline under business rescue as the former CEO pointed out that it was unnecessary, something which he described as ‘rather dramatic’. We have yet to get a presentation on the financials of the company and therefore we cannot objectively state whether there is any justification for having placed the company under Business Rescue.

What is clear however, is that Wrenelle is not fit for the position of CEO at Comair. During the meeting she admitted to making poor decisions which worsened the company’s finances, such as the decision to buy Star Air Cargo as well as the decision to purchase the Simulator of the Airbus A320 - a decision that has cost the Company over R75 million. This money could have paid salaries for at least 12 months. She took a senior pilot seat mid-air with no flying plan, then she removed Comair from cruising altitude without a strategy or execution plan. As a result of her incompetence, the plane is nose-diving and is headed for a collision.

Our members are demanding that that it is time for her and the BRPs to go. Her departure would be in the best interest of the airline and all its employees because she has done more harm than good since she took over. This Company has been profitable for years and it has never had a loss since its inception. But since she took over, the airline has experienced perpetual turbulence and is now under a questionable voluntary business rescue process. Workers are prepared to save this Company but we do not have faith in her to lead and to take the organization forward. She has made disastrous decisions and like all poor performing employees she must be dismissed. We believe that it is possible to save jobs by implementing better decisions and without retrenching employees.

Aluta continua!

The struggle continues!

Issued by Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, NUMSA National Spokesperson, 27 May 2020