Numsa 'condemns' Comair management for workers not getting paid

Kulula.com Boeing 737 800 (Supplied)
Kulula.com Boeing 737 800 (Supplied)

The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) said on Wednesday that it condemns the management of Comair, which is currently in business rescue, for the fact that workers have still not been paid their salaries.

According to Numsa, employees only received their basic salary at the end of March, and in the month of April, Comair used employees' annual leave to "pay" salaries. Employees have not been paid for May.

Comair is the owner of kulula.com and the local operator of British Airways.

Late in April Comair had asked staff to either take leave or unpaid leave for the extended lockdown period, as it could not afford to pay employees their full salaries.

The business rescue practitioners informed creditors and other stakeholders last week that the 77-year-old company had R7.42 billion in assets on its balance sheet compared to liabilities of R5.48 billion.

The assets include R790 million that was unrecoverable after SAA entered business rescue in early December 2019. The money was for outstanding payments still owed on a R1.1 billion settlement in a Competition Commission case.

The practitioners are of the view that there is a reasonable prospect for the airline to be saved as its assets exceed its liabilities.

Before going into business rescue, Comair, which had already started restructuring before the lockdown, asked the state for "special aid" to the airline industry through industry initiatives to help deal with the devastating impact of the covid-19 pandemic that triggered the lockdown.

Numsa claims it has not yet been informed about whether an application for relief from the Unemployment Insurance Fund's covid-19 Temporary Employee Relief Scheme has been approved for Comair employees or not.

"Our members are frustrated because there is no clarity on when this will be paid – if at all," the union said.

"Prior to lockdown our members were served with section 189 notices, and it seems clear that the covid-19 pandemic is a cover for the restructuring which is taking place."

Numsa says it met with Comair CEO Wrenelle Stander and the business rescue practitioners last week but feels the meeting did not bear any positive results. The union feels a clear strategy is lacking for the company going forward.

"Workers are prepared to save this company but we do not have faith in [Stander] to lead and to take the organisation forward... We believe that it is possible to save jobs by implementing better decisions and without retrenching employees," Numsa says.

In terms of the stipulations of the Companies Act, the business rescue practitioners are preparing a plan in consultation with creditors, shareholders, registered trade unions and employees. If approved and adopted, the plan would then be implemented.

The practitioners aim to publish a business rescue plan by 9 June 2020 and have a vote to approve a final plan on 24 June.

Apart from Comair and SAA being in business rescue, state-owned regional airline SA Express is in provisional liquidation after a failed business rescue attempt.

UPDATE: Comair responded that the goal of the business rescue process is to restructure the company "so it can take to the skies again as a sustainable business for the benefit of employees, the flying public and the country. This process balances the rights and interests of all relevant stakeholders, including employees".

When the government announced that the lockdown would only be lifted in phases and it was uncertain when domestic flights may resume, the company had no option but to file for business rescue, according to Comair.
 
It said that, since the company filed for business rescue on 5 May the business rescue practitioners have consulted widely with a range of parties, including trades unions representing Comair employees. It said Numsa was invited to participate in these discussions but chose not to.
 

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