A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
A man cycles past aircraft in the SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) on Friday said they will appeal against a court decision dismissing their application for an order to stop possible retrenchments at SAA.

The unions described Friday's judgment as "a travesty of justice".

Sacca president Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said they were "extremely shocked" by the decision, which takes away "workers' rights to be meaningfully engaged and consulted prior to a restructuring taking place".

"We have proven [on Thursday] that they [practitioners] have told us that there’s going to be an accelerated head count reduction. We have proven that [our] members in Durban, PE, were told that by March 1 they will have no more employment. So this is what shocks us on what the judge has ruled on today. We are going to appeal it," she said.

. Judge Graham Moshoana of the labour court in Johannesburg took less than two minutes to deliver the judgment on Friday.

Moshoana dismissed with costs a supplementary application by the unions, which sought to provide further evidence showing  SAA did consult workers and “expressly told workers that by March 1 they won’t have jobs”, Hlubi Majola said.

The (business rescue) practitioners told the court such a meeting never took place, said Hlubi-Majola. “What for us is completely unacceptable about this decision is that  we view it as a travesty of justice, quite frankly,” she said.

“We are deeply disappointed about what’s being handed down here. And of course, our attorneys are preparing to argue for an application for a leave to appeal. We must appeal this decision: 10,000 families will be affected by this decision. This is not a small thing, it’s a battle for survival.”

Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said: “They [practitioners] also blatantly denied the fact that they told us in an employee committee meeting that they want an accelerated head count rationalisation: In other words they wanted to retrench workers without following the process. They told us. In their [court] papers they blatantly denied it, under oath. They are acting in extremely bad faith and hence we are appealing this.”

On Thursday, the airline’s business rescue practitioners argued that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the unions’ application. 

In an affidavit, business rescue practitioners Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson argue that SAA is in business rescue and that, according to the Companies Act, no legal proceedings should proceed without their consent or without the leave of the court.

A business rescue process is aimed at rehabilitating a financially distressed company by restructuring its affairs, including debt.

Numsa and Sacca approached the court after the two practitioners recently announced that the airline would cancel all domestic flights, except for a reduced service to Cape Town, as well as some international and regional flights, at the end of February in a bid to cut costs.

The decision has been criticised by the unions, while President Cyril Ramaphosa, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane and his KwaZulu-Natal counterpart Sihle Zikalala have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision. The practitioners have insisted that the decision to cut flights was taken in the best interests of SAA.

In a meeting with employee representatives last week, the practitioners said retrenchments are now under consideration and the company cannot afford the mandatory 60-day consultation process prescribed by the Labour Relations Act . They are said to have asked for an expedited process, arguing that the funds they have left could be exhausted by the end of March.

SAA recently received a R3.5bn loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, which enabled it to continue flying while the practitioners prepare to restructure the airline into what is hoped will be a sustainable business.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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