Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A crippling strike that would have affected Comair services during the  festive season has been averted for now. Both parties will meet at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to resolve their pay dispute in January.

The airline, which operates domestic routes under British Airways and Kulula, is in a dispute with members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

Numsa is a majority union at Comair, meaning that if it embarked on a strike, services would be disrupted nationally, leaving holiday makers stranded.

The union is demanding a pay rise of 13%, a guaranteed  bonus and travelling allowances, among other benefits.

On Thursday Comair said it was relieved that its customers’ travel plans were “unlikely” to be disrupted over the festive season. It also said it would continue engaging Numsa members to resolve the dispute.

However, it said there were contingency plans to minimise disruption if Numsa decided to  go ahead with the strike in spite of the scheduled talks at the CCMA in the new year.

On Wednesday, the union accused Comair of hogging profits at the expense of workers.

“In the last financial year, Comair made a profit of R6bn , which was an improvement of R452m from the previous financial year. Workers are directly responsible for that performance. It was entirely through their efforts that the executives and the board are experiencing huge profits. Workers have earned and deserve an increase and a living wage. The lowest paid worker earns R9,000 a month.

“They are denied a guaranteed 13th cheque, and other allowances like the shift allowance and the daily overtime allowance, whilst the executives receive millions in guaranteed bonus pay-outs,” said Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.

Numsa is also challenging Comair’s compliance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Hlubi-Majola said the airline was putting the lives of workers at risk by “forcing them to rely on dubious, unreliable methods of transportation” to and from work by not providing safe transportation.

“Our members are fed up with being abused and exploited, and they refuse to back down. We are calling on Comair to come to their senses and negotiate meaningfully with our demands,” she said.

“The public will be hugely inconvenienced by a strike at this time of the year, and this will hurt their profits. We are aware that the airline has approached Bid Air to assist them during the strike. Unfortunately, that strategy will backfire because Numsa has members there as well,” Hlubi-Majola said.