NEWS & ANALYSIS

Comair: NUMSA to approach the Labour Court

Union wants an urgent interdict to block retrenchments at airline

NUMSA to approach the Labour Court for an urgent interdict to block retrenchments at Comair tomorrow

18 November 2020

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) will be at the Labour Court tomorrow 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. Shaun Collyer and Richard Ferguson, who have been appointed as the business Rescue Practitioners (BRP’s), are trying to retrench approximately 400 employees, as per the Business Rescue plan. At the same time the BRP’s have not paid employees their salaries since April this year and they intend to reduce their remuneration in 2021. 

In anticipation of the adoption of the BR plan, the BRP’s 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 the 1st 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. 

Whilst NUMSA is acutely aware of the challenges facing Comair in these challenging times, it is unfortunate that the BRPs and Comair’s new Investors are taking full advantage of the current circumstances, and are maximising profits at the expense of workers.  NUMSA has made creative proposals as to how the claim of workers to remuneration could be accommodated without compromising the viability and sustainability of the airline, but this was rejected. In addition, it has been noted that Comair, as part of a merger application to the Competition Commission, has committed up to 5% of its shareholding to BBBEE partners.  It is untenable that employees are required to waive their right full entitlement to remuneration in circumstances where there are clearly alternative mechanisms available to accommodate the claims of employees, and also attain the objectives of transformation and ensure the viability, sustainability and success of Comair.  It is most unfortunate that the BRPs (who had retrospectively doubled their fees and who have other financial interests in the business rescue process), and the new Investors, (who compromise largely of former Comair executives), are not prepared to act honourably and fairly towards employees but instead wish to maximise their future profits. 

NUMSA has accordingly been left with no choice but to take legal action and our current application seeks to obtain the following relief from the Labour Court:

1.     Declare that the BRP’s are acting in a manner which 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.

2.     Declare that NUMSA is not bound by the terms of the Collective agreement which was entered into on the 25th of September 2020.

3.     Consult in good faith on all issues contemplated in section 189 and 189A of the LRA.

The matter will be heard on Thursday the 19th of November, 2020 at 2pm.

Aluta continua!

The struggle continues!

Issued by Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, NUMSA National Spokesperson, 18 November 2020