Comair confirmed on Friday that negotiations with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA regarding a salary dispute have deadlocked.
The airline operates British Airways and kulula.com in SA.
The matter relates to Comair's 2009 restructure, when certain salary scales were merged.
Comair told Fin24 on Friday that at the time, it had decided not to penalise 21 employees by reducing their salaries after the restructure. The salary scales of those 21 employees had differed from colleagues in the bargaining unit.
Numsa said on Friday that it had met with Comair to discuss two disputes. The first was around wage discrepancies and the second related to wage increases.
"On the issue of the wage discrepancy, our members complained that there were unjustified wage gaps, which are race-based, between workers for doing the same work," said the union.
"One of the terms of the agreement we signed last month, was that a working committee made up of the management team at Comair and Numsa would meet to investigate this issue and map a way forward to resolve it."
In Numsa's view, 23 workers at the Airports Bargaining Unit are earning what the union deems to be unjustifiably high salaries.
The positions most affected are those of ramp controllers, lounge hosts, customer services agents and special services agents. The union says the widest salary gap for the same grade of work is over R7 000.
"We cannot allow a situation where the principle of equal pay for work of equal value is blatantly violated in the workplace. We made a proposal to management that they need to agree on a time frame for how they will correct these wage discrepancies," said Numsa.
The union said it rejected a proposal by Comair that the higher earners will simply be denied wage increases until the salaries of other workers catch up.
As for the second dispute regarding wage increases in general, Numsa said Comair has put forward a proposal.
Numsa will, therefore, meet with its members to decide on the way forward regarding the two disputes. If members reject what has been put on the table, Numsa says a strike will become inevitable.
'Outlier salaries' not based on race - Comair
Wrenelle Stander, executive director of Comair's airline division, on Friday denied Numsa's claim that some Comair personnel are paid R7 000 a month more than their colleagues on the basis of race. Stander said the 21 "outlier" employees, whose salary scales differ from other colleagues in the bargaining unit, consist of people across race groups and genders. Numsa has been informed of this.
"We run our business with integrity, fairness and transparency. We have zero tolerance for racism or any form of discrimination. Numsa and Comair agreed on the number of outliers, which comprises 3% of the bargaining unit, as well as the reasons for these outliers," said Stander.
According to Comair, the salary discrepancies of the 21 "outliers" are in some cases as little as R600, and in only one case is the difference R7 900.
Comair said it was unable to support Numsa's current stance to increase the salaries of the rest of the 683 employees in the bargaining unit to match those of the 21 outlier salaries. The airline said it remains willing to find ways to close the gap.