Unions approach court to force SAA to pay 'outstanding' salaries

Unions approach court to force SAA to pay 'outstanding' salaries

The National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) have told the labour court that SAA’s failure to pay their members their “outstanding salaries” had put them in “undue hardship”.

The unions approached the court on Monday on an urgent basis, asking it to compel SAA's business rescue practitioners to pay their members three months’ outstanding salaries, a 13th cheque and a lump sum of 5.9% in respect of an increase, backdated to April 2020.

Numsa and Sacca also want the court to declare as unlawful the airline’s failure to pay the outstanding salaries because they refused to sign an “unfair” settlement proposal.

They have asked the court that the payments be made within seven days.

The department of public enterprises has filed an application to join the matter.

According to Numsa, in December 2020, the department of public enterprises came with a proposed settlement, in terms of which payment of remuneration was to be made for the months of June, July and August on the basis of it constituting a “full and final settlement of all claims the employees might have against SAA”.

Numsa and Sacca rejected the settlement offer, while minority parties agreed to take it.

“One cannot compare a situation where people’s livelihoods are at stake to commercial arbitration,” argued Minnaar Niehaus, the lawyer representing the unions.

Niehaus argued that the affected employees were in a “dire” financial situation and were suffering “undue” hardship.

“These are not commercial commodities. Loss of a commercial deal is one thing. Here we are dealing with livelihoods of employees. Employees live from month-to-month. One month of not receiving a salary is disastrous. Employees who are not able to provide for their families lose their dignity,” said Niehaus.

He argued that the matter was urgent and should be treated as such.

“This application was instituted timeously. The prejudice employees will suffer as a result of not getting their salaries cannot be remedied. There is no defence in not paying employees.

“We will take the three months’ [salaries] now because we know there’s money. We are going to waive those rights as the others have done.” 

Andrew Redding, senior counsel for SAA, argued that there was no “general” funding available at SAA and that the loan the airline had received from the department of public enterprises was for a “specific” purpose.

“That an offer is made doesn’t mean the business rescue plan has been breached or that there is some unlawful act.

“What underlies what the government has done is that it has tried to reduce its liability through entering into agreements of settlement,” Redding argued.

He said there was no case that there was an infringement of the Employment Equity Act.

“The proposal was made to all employees equally.”

Judge Andre van Niekerk reserved judgment in the matter.