Labour department charges airline operator with failure to comply with employment equity

Leseja Mokgata

Leseja Mokgata

The department of labour is hauling Comair, the operator of and British Airways South Africa, off to court on charges of not complying with employment equity.

Labour department spokesman Zolisa Sigabi said: "This is the result of continued non-compliance despite several warnings to correct the issue."

Labour director-general Vanguard Mkosana filed the application with the Johannesburg Labour Court yesterday "after several warnings" against the airline company.

But Comair denied the charges, saying it would dispute the allegations.

Comair executive manager of human resources, Eve Liebetrau, said: "We don't want to comment on the specific allegations as it might jeopardise the current legal proceedings, but we will be challenging the application.

"Over the past year Comair has increased its representation by black employees from 29percent to 55percent and employees from designated groups represent 80percent of the workforce, with seven percent of the pilots being black," she said.

Comair, the first JSE-listed company to be taken to the labour court, has until November 20 to respond to the application.

The company faces several serious charges of non-compliance with the Employment Equity Act. These include failing to prepare an employment equity plan and failing to appoint one or more senior managers to monitor and implement an employment equity plan from 2000 to 2006.

It also failed to submit a report to the director-general on the first working day of October this year and submitted reports to the Department of Labour that were not based on any existing employment equity plan.

Bowman and Gilfillan labour attorney, Graham Damant, said: "These are very serious allegations, and it would be very difficult for Comair to prove that they had implemented a plan.

"If there was an employment equity plan in place, it would have been submitted to the department," Damant said.

"This is very unusual, because most disputes occur with employers who already have a plan, but who are not complying fully with it."

The labour department has demanded a R900000 fine, the maximum fine.

A R900000 fine is imposed on an employer with four previous contraventions, while a company with no previous offences can be charged R500000.

According to the act, once the labour department finds an offence, it is required to file a compliance order. If this is not followed within the stated period, a fine is imposed.

The labour department launched a workplace inspection blitz earlier this year where workplace safety and employment equity were among the criteria to measure employers' compliance with labour laws.

Liebetrau said: "Once a detailed statement is released, shareholders will realise the company is doing the right thing and will get over this."

Comair's share price was down 0,6% following the announcement.