As South African Airways (SAA) prepares to exit its business rescue proceedings, the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) has threatened to take legal action against the airline’s business rescue practitioners (BRPs) for alleged “favouritism”and unfair labour practices.
Saapa has referred the rescue practitioners and the airline to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for allegedly contravening sections of the Labour Relations Act and “infringing [on the] freedom of association of Saapa members”.
The rescue practitioners have denied the allegations, saying its conduct against Saapa members has been lawful. Saapa declined to comment further on the matter.
Saapa members have been locked out of the airline since December, pending the cancellation of the contentious Regulatory Agreement. They have also not received a salary since March last year, when the airline ceased operations.
Saapa members have been barred from the airline’s premises due to the lockout and have been unable to access SAA simulator facilities to qualify for ad-hoc work with other companies to recoup lost income. Simulator facilities artificially create an in-flight environment for training purposes and maintaining proficiency in handling airplane operations.
Non-Saapa members have been permitted to use these facilities (paid for by third parties) while the airline remains under care and maintenance, according to the association.
In a letter addressed to BRPs Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson, dated February 24 that Moneyweb has seen, Saapa chief negotiator Glen Smith accuses the rescuers of discriminating against Saapa members based on their trade union membership.
The association wants the airline to lift the lockout to allow its members to access the simulator facilities, at the company’s cost, for the next six months. This would allow Saapa members to re-qualify for their pilot’s licences and to perform their pilot proficiency checks, recency and licence renewals.
Smith accused Dongwana and Matuson of punishing Saapa members in favour of pilots who joined rival union, the National Transport Movement (NTM) before the lookout, saying it’s a “textbook instance of trade union sweetheart-ism”.
According to Smith, the BRPs made a commitment to pay all pilots their 13th cheques (which were due at the end of April 2019) as soon as funds were available as per the company’s business rescue plan. The payments have not been disbursed to Saapa members and pilots who resigned from Saapa after the lockout, despite the airline receiving R10.5 billion required for SAA’s business rescue, Smith says. NTM pilots have however “unconditionally” been paid their 13th cheques.
The airline has withheld the payments allegedly due to Saapa members, subject to the association’s members signing a settlement agreement that was offered to the pilots in January.
Smith says NTM members who are pilots were offered the same settlement, which includes three months back pay, without any conditions attached. Additionally, all pilots who were not Saapa members and who elected to take the voluntary severance packages were afforded the opportunity to take up the back pay salary agreement on an individual basis.
The settlement agreement was offered on an individual basis to members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca), however Smith accuses the rescue practitioners of rejecting Saapa’s request for the same offer to be made to its members but including pilots who are members of NTM.
“The only inference that can be drawn from this [discrimination] is that current and former Saapa members who remain employed by SAA are being punished for their membership of Saapa. The company and the BRPs’ conduct is actuated by improper or illegitimate motives, unfair, unlawful and actionable at the instance of Saapa,” Smith says.