At least 1,000 retrenchments likely at SAA, unions tell labour court

Unions are in the labour court voicing concern over possible 'mass retrenchments' at SAA.
Unions are in the labour court voicing concern over possible 'mass retrenchments' at SAA.
Image: Pixabay/StockSnap

What the business rescue practitioners at SAA are doing at the airline amounts to the start of retrenchments and they must follow the processes envisaged in the Labour Relations Act.

That was the submission of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) in an urgent application before the labour court on Thursday.

The two unions are seeking an order to compel the business rescue practitioners, if they intend to retrench, to follow the retrenchment procedure envisaged in section 189 of the act.

The section allows for a retrenchment process to take time and include consultations with employees, who could provide alternatives that may save jobs.

The unions asked the court to declare that an announcement by business rescue practitioners on purported dismissals was null and void.

The unions went to court after the business rescue practitioners announced last week they would cut a number of routes operated by SAA and said a “reduction in the number of employees will unfortunately be necessary".

However, the business rescue practitioners raised preliminary points in the case.

The first was that because SAA was in business rescue, provisions of the Companies Act prevented unions from taking a company to court during these proceedings, unless they had permission from the high court.

The business rescue practitioners also contended that the application by the unions was premature because the practitioners had not reached a stage where it might be said there was a serious contemplation of dismissals for operational requirements.

“When that plan is ready and there is a contemplation of which jobs and people may be affected, a section 189 process will be duly instituted," the business rescue practitioners said in papers opposing the unions' application.

Counsel for the unions, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, told judge Graham Moshoana that if there were retrenchments contemplated in the business rescue plan, those retrenchments should be subjected to section 189, which entailed consultations with employees.

“The primary target of many business rescue plans is employees. This is what has happened here. SAA knows they are closing all these routes. They don't explain what the closure of these routes means for employees," Ngcukaitobi said.

It was obvious that once the routes were closed, employees would be jobless, he added, saying this was not merely internal restructuring, but restructuring that would result in job losses.

“It is clear that SAA is contemplating huge retrenchments with at least 1,000  retrenchments. We are asking them to comply with the law. We have been told they are going to fire us. In these circumstances, they must do what section 189 says."

However, Andrew Redding SC, for SAA and the business rescue practitioners, maintained that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case until the unions obtained permission from the high court that proceedings could be brought against the practitioners under section 133 of the Companies Act.

Redding said the business rescue practitioners should not be inundated with having to go to court in cases which had no merit.

“We say [the labour court has] no jurisdiction. Section 133 presents a hurdle that must be overcome by the applicants," he said. 

The matter continues.

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