Unions plan to appeal labour court ruling over SAA retrenchments

Two unions at SAA said on Thursday they will petition the labour appeal court after losing a court case over potential retrenchments at the airline on Thursday.
Two unions at SAA said on Thursday they will petition the labour appeal court after losing a court case over potential retrenchments at the airline on Thursday.
Image: SAA

Two unions at SAA said on Thursday they will petition the labour appeal court after losing a court case over potential retrenchments at the airline on Thursday.

The labour court on Thursday dismissed the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the South African Cabin Crew Association's joint application for leave to appeal against the judgment passed by the court last Friday.

In that judgment, the labour court dismissed the unions' bid to force the business rescue practitioners at the SAA to consult employees over feared job losses arising from proposed route closures.

In its judgment on Friday, the court held that SAA had not contemplated dismissals, and the duty to consult within the contemplation of the Labour Relations Act did not arise.

The unions applied for leave to appeal against the Friday judgment on the same day and the court dismissed that application on Thursday.

“It is very clear and evident that the [business rescue practitioners] are in fact implementing radical restructuring at SAA and that mass retrenchments are imminent,” the unions said after the judgment on Thursday.

The unions said the practitioners were violating workers’ rights and were proceeding with this process, and they were not after labour laws, particularly with respect to ensuring meaningful engagement.

“This is why we had to approach the labour court on an urgent basis, it was the only way to safeguard the interests of workers at SAA.

“Unfortunately, the labour court did not agree with this view and dismissed the application on the basis that the judge did not agree that the (practitioners) are considering retrenchments.”

The unions said the labour court had effectively subverted workers' rights with this decision and said they were are left with no choice but to seek remedy elsewhere.

“We will be making an urgent application to petition the labour appeal court (LAC) directly for them to hear this application. We will file the papers tomorrow.”

The unions said they will raise a number of arguments in their application.

They said the labour court’s approach has created fertile grounds for business rescue practitioners to abuse their powers and to act with impunity towards employees as long as all of this was done before they issued a business rescue plan.

“In our view, it sets the wrong precedent and this is why we are challenging this decision.”

The unions said the duty to consult had a substantive purpose, for example, in order to avoid or to minimise dismissals by way of granting labour an opportunity to  engage and make alternative proposals.  

“The labour court’s approach is entirely at odds with the established jurisprudence to this effect and there is no basis in law and equity to exclude employers under business rescue from this jurisprudence, as the court’s current judgment effectively does.”


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