The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has attacked the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) concerning its behaviour regarding maintenance and repair organisation South African Airways Technical (SAAT), a subsidiary of the State-owned national airline South African Airways (SAA – which has been under business rescue for the whole of this year). According to Numsa, the DPE has “deliberately” misled both workers and management at SAAT.
“The DPE has created the impression that a portion of the R1.5-billion which was allocated to [the] SAA Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) would be used on subsidiaries of SAA, including [low cost carrier] Mango, SAAT and [airline caterer] Airchefs,” charged the union, in its statement. “This has created chaos and has disrupted the workplace at SAAT because workers there have only received 25% of their salaries for the last eight months. Workers are angry and are under the mistaken impression that the BRPs at SAA are withholding the money, and therefore withholding their salaries. They are frustrated and [on Wednesday] they wanted to march to SAA to demand money from the BRPs, when in fact, this money had not been allocated to them.”
Numsa also attacked the DPE on other grounds. The department and SAA, it affirmed, wanted SAA workers to forfeit five months of the eight months salaries (plus all the other statutory payments) that the airline owed them, and accept salaries for only three months (plus bonuses). The unions had proposed that salaries be deferred by three months, but ultimately be paid, not forfeited. Numsa described the DPE and SAA proposal as “broad daylight robbery of what belongs to workers”.
“We have seen media reports alleging that DPE is doing this to funnel money from SAA to its subsidiaries,” asserted the union. “If these claims are true, then it is unlawful and we reject it with contempt. The R1.5-billion which was allocated to SAA is only enough to pay SAA employees’ salaries in full and this includes all outstanding claims, and all monies must be paid to them.”
Numsa pointed out that when the government had started the SAA business rescue process, it had deliberately decided to exclude the airline’s subsidiaries. The union would not allow the DPE to now reverse this policy, for that would be “patently unlawful” and acquiescence in such a move would be “irresponsible”.
“It would be immoral to take money from one group of workers, in order to pay another,” stressed Numsa. “Workers at SAA have also suffered with no pay for eight months. They have sacrificed 3 200 jobs to rescue the airline through retrenchments. At the same time, workers at SAAT have been surviving on only 25% of their salaries, whilst the Executives at SAAT have been earning their salaries in full.”
The union accused Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan of “playing chess games with workers’ livelihoods” and of “deliberately pitting one group of workers against another”. Citing the crises at SAA, SAAT and also State-owned airline SA Express and defence industrial group Denel, Numsa argued that the Minister had failed. “We repeat the call for Pravin [Gordhan] to be fired,” it stated, describing him as a “wrecking ball” who was “worsening the situation” rather than helping it. “We demand that the Presidency must intervene and stop the actions of the Minister.”