Gordhan 'playing chess' with workers' livelihoods, says Numsa

Minister of Public Entreprises Pravin Gordhan says they are not going
to liquidate SAA and business rescue practitioners must turn it
around. Photo by Misheck Makora
Minister of Public Entreprises Pravin Gordhan says they are not going to liquidate SAA and business rescue practitioners must turn it around. Photo by Misheck Makora
  • The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has accused Minister Pravin Gordhan of manipulating and misleading workers.
  • NUMSA secretary general Irvin Jim said 3 200 jobs were sacrificed to rescue the airline while SAA Technical staff were surviving off 25% of their salaries.
  • Jim said misinformation relating to a R1.5 billion allocation - over 10% of the R10.5 billion SAA is set to receive to aid its business rescue process - had caused "chaos" among workers. 

In the latest word on the encounter between the Department of Public Enterprises and unions over South African Airways, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has come out swinging at Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, accusing him of manipulating and misleading workers.

The statement said misinformation relating to a R1.5 billion allocation - over 10% of the R10.5 billion SAA is set to receive to aid its business rescue process - had caused "chaos" among workers. 

The airline, which has been in business rescue since December last year, has reportedly been advanced the R1.5 billion with conditions. However, the allocation has been at the centre of a storm over salary payments as unions accused the Department of Public Enterprises of blackmail.  Earlier this week, the DPE said it considered an agreement reached with some unions for the payment of three months' outstanding salaries to be fair. 

Some unions were undermining the deferment agreement, it said. 

But according to Numsa, the DPE did not request that salaries be deferred by three months. "This was a proposal which Numsa and SACCA put on the table as an alternative to what the DPE, through SAA management, proposed in writing to employees. DPE and the SAA management want employees to accept only 3- months’ salary plus their bonus, but they must forfeit the remaining 5-months salaries owed to them by SAA," Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said. 

Jim added that despite media reports alleging that payments were set to be made to SAA subsidiaries, there was only enough money allocated to pay SAA salaries in full. ". It would be immoral to take money from one group of workers, in order to pay another," Jim said. 

Jim added that workers at SAA had had no pay for eight months and 3 200 jobs had been cut to save the airline. However, he acknowledged that workers at SAA Technical had similarly suffered, earning just 25% of their salaries. 

"DPE is aware of all these issues, but instead of leading and finding viable solutions, the Minister, Pravin Gordhan, is playing chess games with workers’ livelihoods," Jim said, adding that this was "pitting one group of workers against another" and amounted to "cold-hearted brutality".  

A lack of reliable information had led to chaos, according to Jim, and workers were considering marching to demand payment from the airline’s business rescue practitioners on Wednesday, when in fact, the money had not been allocated to them.

"Workers at both entities are understandably desperate and frustrated," he said. 

He called for the Presidency to intervene. "Surely this is the final straw. SAAT is on its knees, SA Express has collapsed, and SAA is in ICU," he added. 

Public Enterprises spokesperson Richard Mantu said the department would not comment on statements made by the union in public.

Earlier this week, the department urged unions to negotiate in "good faith". It added some unions were working together with "some opposition parties" to undermine the deferment agreement to ultimately undermine the business rescue.

SACCA President Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said the union took exception to the department’s statement.

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