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SAA Pilots' Association may fight labour court lockout ruling

Members of the SAA Pilots' Association remain locked out of company premises.
Members of the SAA Pilots' Association remain locked out of company premises.
Image: Business Day

The SAA Pilots' Association (Saapa) expressed disappointment on Tuesday after its application to interdict the airline's business rescue practitioners (BRPs) from locking its members out of the premises failed.

The administrators are preventing nearly 400 pilots from accessing the company's premises until they agree to new employment terms and conditions. These include new salary scales.

After the labour court ruling, Saapa said it was reviewing the judgment with legal representatives before deciding on a way forward.

Saapa chairperson Grant Back said SAA employees had borne the brunt of the airline's shortcomings.

“SAA is where it is today because of years of mismanagement, lack of corporate governance, endemic corruption, the delinquent director, Dudu Myeni, and the incompetence of other directors and managers appointed by the department of public enterprises, all of which has been on full display at the state capture inquiry,” he said.

Pilots had already made sacrifices, even having to give up half their salaries, he said, adding that this was not taken into consideration as the business rescue practitioners handled retrenchment pay and selection criteria.

“We maintain this lockout is nothing other than further abuse of power under the business rescue provisions in an attempt to scapegoat the pilots for the state of SAA,  exactly as Dudu Myeni attempted to do, and an infringement on the correct and fair treatment of employees in a company under business rescue.”

Back alleged there was more to the pilots' lockout.

“In addition to distracting from a disastrous business rescue process and the real reasons for SAA’s demise, the lockout is about trying to force the pilots to accept retrenchment based on race and an attempt by the BRPs and the [department of public enterprises] to avoid an unfair dismissal claim and the liability thereof, which would result from the implementation of their envisaged discriminatory, prejudicial and unlawful approach to the retrenchment of pilots.

“Many of the grounds raised in the interdict application were novel in law. Saapa [was] aware these might not succeed in the urgent court [application] and [is] considering an appeal.”

SAA entered a local form of bankruptcy protection in December 2019 after a decade of financial losses. Matters took a turn for the worse after the airline grounded flights due to the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year.

Business rescue practitioner Siviwe Dongwana welcomed the judgment.

“The judgment confirms that the business rescue practitioners have effectively complied with the Labour Relations Act in terms [of] implementing the lockout. It is unfortunate that during the business rescue process, when many employees demonstrated a real understanding of the extent of the financial distress that SAA is in through accepting the voluntary severance packages and considering new terms and conditions, Saapa hasn’t moved an inch from seeking to continue with its 1997 Regulating Agreement.

“This is in contrast to many other affected parties who have to make concessions to create a platform for a new sustainable airline.

“As business rescue practitioners we, however, remain committed to finding a solution with Saapa, which includes the termination of the Regulating Agreement, which cannot be sustained in the new SAA, as well as agree new terms and conditions. This is fundamental in implementing the plan and is in the interests of all affected parties of SAA”.

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