Acsa workers hung out to dry

2014-01-19 14:01

As senior managers are paid out dividends, ordinary workers say they are still waiting for a payout from failed share scheme

About five years after management was paid out for shares obtained as part of an incentive scheme, thousands of ordinary workers at the Airports Company SA (Acsa), the state-owned company which manages airports across the country, say they have not seen a cent for their shares.

In 1998, Acsa set up two employee share ownership schemes – the Airports Company Management Scheme for senior management and the Kagano Scheme for general staff – to allow employees to participate in the company’s listing on the JSE.

But the listing fell through, forcing trustees of the management scheme to buy out their beneficiaries for a reported R30?million at the end of 2008. There was no word on Kagano.

Last June, Acsa called a meeting with Nehawu, the majority union at the parastatal. Acsa suggested buying out Kagano’s current beneficiaries for close to R19?million, the amount left after deducting loans extended by Acsa to help buy the shares and for administrative costs.

Whereas senior management received the value of their shares plus accumulated dividends, Acsa’s presentation to union leaders indicated Kagano would not be paid out for dividends because these were distributed to beneficiaries by Kagano’s wholly-owned Lexshell 342 Investment Holdings, which held shares on behalf of workers.

But workers City Press spoke to said they never saw any of this money. “Lexshell didn’t distribute anything around South African airports,” said one, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal. “Workers are angry because still no one has received a cent.”

They levelled accusations of financial mismanagement against Lexshell.

According to Acsa’s share register, Lexshell is led by Peter Mlaba, the general secretary of the SA Aviation and Allied Workers Union (Saaawu). Company registration records show that other top officials in the union, Prince Mabena and Levy Mhlaba, are also directors in Lexshell.

Two unnamed trustees sought a legal opinion, which City Press has seen, on getting an interdict to stop Kagano from accepting Acsa’s offer “pending an investigation pertaining to the alleged withholding of dividends by Acsa”.

It appears the two did not go ahead with the interdict, as Acsa’s human resources boss, Pieter du Plessis, said Kagano’s current trustees had no knowledge of it or of the legal opinion.

Du Plessis is also a director in Lexshell. A lawyer for the two trustees said she could not comment as she was ethically bound by attorney-client confidentiality.

Du Plessis said the share buyout was completed in the last few months of 2013 through the acceptance of individual offers

to all qualifying workers.

Beneficiaries of deceased employees are currently being traced and verified.

Mlaba denied allegations of financial mismanagement on the union’s part, but confirmed trustees had sought legal opinion.

“Five trustees, as a concerned group and interested party in the matter, jointly approached legal channels to seek legal advice and opinion, since they have reasons to believe that the trust was a closed scheme with the [approximately 1?500] name-listed beneficiaries that all had to benefit in the event of either winding up, sale or share buy-back.”

He committed to respond to the allegations in more detail after consulting with relevant parties.

But complicating the matter was Du Plessis’ denial that Acsa had any relationship with Saaawu.

He said: “Saaawu is not a recognised union and Acsa has no relationship with this union. It can therefore be confirmed that no meetings were held with the mentioned union at any time regarding the unit buyout.

“It can further be confirmed that Saaawu has made attempts to obtain recognition at Acsa, however, this was not successful as a result of insufficient membership.”

But when confronted with company records, Du Plessis said the unionists were removed by the board of trustees as they

no longer worked for Acsa.

“The administration process of removal is still being concluded by the appointed legal team,” said Du Plessis.

Asked about the dividends, Du Plessis said Kagano was treated similarly to other shareholders when it came to working out and paying over these amounts. He said these were paid over to beneficiaries.

He did not answer questions on alleged financial mismanagement at Lexshell, but said that before the restructuring and buyout of Kagano, its trustees conducted an independent, “comprehensive” audit dating back to its inception.

“The trustees are considering the outcomes of the audit report to ensure the legitimacy of all transactions,” he said.

For the record

In the article “Acsa workers hung out to dry” (City Press, January 19 2014), we reported that thousands of ordinary employees of Airports Company SA (Acsa) said they had not seen a cent for their shares as part of an incentive scheme.

Acsa has indicated that the scheme, which was launched in 1998, could not have had thousands of employees since it was only available to 1?500 Acsa employees at the time.

Acsa said the number of employees who were beneficiaries was, in fact, less than the original since some members had left the company, had retired or were deceased.

Only those people who were employed by Acsa at the inception of the scheme were entitled to get their shares, Acsa indicated.

Acsa said qualifying Kagano beneficiaries received payment from the buy-back of their units and that dividend payments were also made in 2007 and 2008, City Press regrets the error in recording that thousands of workers had not been paid and apologises for any inconvenience this may have caused.

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