Numsa members picketing at national carrier SAA. PICTURE: SUPPLIED
Numsa members picketing at national carrier SAA. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca), the two biggest unions at SAA, said on Friday that they will go to court to defend jobs at the ailing state-owned airline and instructed their members not to sign retrenchment agreements with the business rescue practitioners.

The unions said they reject the threat of retrenchments and the intimidation of workers by the joint practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana.

“We reject attempts by these failed practitioners to coerce workers into signing hollow, empty retrenchment packages, when they have been unable to deliver on a turnaround plan to save our national carrier and save jobs,” the unions said.

The practitioners, who have proposed a winding down process that involves retrenching all employees, say they have two choices: either carry on and implement that plan or throw in the towel and apply for liquidation.

A wind-down would give employees a better claim on termination pay than a liquidation, but for this to happen employees must provide their consent, which they have not done so far. The company does not have funds to pay salaries beyond April and the government has refused to give it more cash.

In a notice to affected parties on Thursday, the practitioners said that if SAA employees do not accept the proposed wind-down, they would be unable to continue with the business rescue process and would have to make an urgent application to the courts for an order to discontinue the proceedings and place SAA into liquidation.

“This situation could have been avoided if the very same, incompetent practitioners had heeded advice from unions, and had taken the decision to place workers on the training lay-off scheme in line with the settlement we secured after the strike last year,” the unions said.

A training lay-off scheme is a temporary suspension of work of a worker or group of workers that is used for training purposes. Employees don’t get a salary during the training period but receive a training allowance amounting to 75% of their salaries while in the programme.

“If they had put employees on the training lay-off scheme in December, the majority of the workforce would be on full-time training right now, earning full salaries paid for by the Sector Education and Training Authority.”

The unions said the practitioners chose to ignore the advice because “their goal has always been the collapse and liquidation of the airline”.

Numsa and Sacca said they are left with no option but to launch a court application to remove the practitioners. They called on the department of public enterprises to join the application to defend the airline and “work with us in developing a turnaround plan that will secure the future of the airline and save jobs”.

“This is a battle for the very survival of the airline and for all the working-class families who will be affected by the cruel and calculating actions of the practioners,” the unions said. “We call on all political parties and all progressive formations who care about the working-class and the poor, to do their patriotic duty and support this court application.”

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