Two trade unions – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) – have jointly accused the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) currently overseeing the business rescue process for State-owned South African Airways (SAA) of violating the rights of their members working at the airline. They have, as a consequence, jointly written a letter to the BRPs, they reported in a statement they issued on Tuesday.
In this letter the two unions have warned the SAA BRPs that if they fail to reply to their demands, also by Tuesday, the unions would “have no choice” but to go to the High Court to obtain an interdict against the BRPs. This interdict would be to prevent them from publishing their business rescue plan (which has to be released by March 6).
The unions pointed out that, under Section 144 (2) of the Companies Act, SAA employees are considered preferred unsecured creditors of the airline. As such, they have certain rights, which, they affirmed, the BRPs had violated.
“So far the BRPs have acted unilaterally to restructure SAA and they are doing so without consulting workers in a genuine way and infringing workers’ rights under the Companies Act,” asserted the unions in their statement. “The BRPs have sent letters to employees who will be affected by the [BRP-decided] closure of the eleven [SAA] routes, compelling them to agree to drastically reduced hours. … We have advised our members not to sign these agreements as these are a direct violation of their rights in terms of the Labour Law.”
Numsa and Sacca want the BRPs to comply with four demands. They must reveal all SAA business and affairs documentation relevant to ensuring that the workers can be meaningfully consulted; the BRPs must consult with the workers; the BRPs must release to the unions the draft business rescue plan, so that they can make suggestions and put forward possible alternative plans; and, they must allow the workers enough time to examine the plan and make suggestions and propose options.
The unions are of the opinion that “the BRPs have no right to publish any business rescue plan” until they have met these demands. “Meanwhile, we believe that our members’ rights are protected in terms of the Companies Act and it is this legislation which we will be using in order to demand that the BRPs act in good faith during this restructuring process.”