Court's database server trips up urgent application by unions against SAA

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So far, 3 599 of the 4 597 SAA employees have either individually or through their own trade unions signed the settlement agreement.
So far, 3 599 of the 4 597 SAA employees have either individually or through their own trade unions signed the settlement agreement.
Gallo Images/Jacques Stander
  • NUMSA and SACCA want payment to their SAA members made within seven days, if their application is granted.
  • The two unions claim, government has continuously expressed a commitment to making such funding available.
  • The DPE did not anticipate the rescue process would drag on for so long and claim there simply is no extra money to pay more than 3-months of backpay.


An urgent application by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) to the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Thursday to have a deal regarding backpay of members of South African Airways (SAA) declared unlawful or unfair, had to be postponed due to the court's database server being down.

This prevented the judge from receiving the heads of arguments of the parties and replying affidavits in an application by Minister of Public Enterprise Pravin Gordhan to be joined as a respondent.

SAA, as well as the state-owned airline's joint-business rescue practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, are named as the respondents in the case. They, as well as Gordhan, have indicated that they will oppose NUMSA and SACCA's application.

In the view of NUMSA and SACCA, however, Gordhan does not have the right to intervene in their application, because SAA is still under business rescue and the rescue practitioners must discharge their duties "without interference from the shareholder". 

NUMSA and SACCA want payment to their SAA members made within seven days, if their application is granted. They say they want "proper backpay as well as a lump sum in respect of a 5.9% increase backdated to April 2020 and their pro rata savings towards a 13th cheque in circumstances where such payment is due and payable and where same was made to other employees".

The two unions claim government has continuously expressed a commitment to making such funding available. The DPE has, however, said in the past it did not anticipate the rescue process would drag on for so long and that there simply is no extra money to pay more in terms of backpay.

In an affidavit to support Gordhan's request to be joined as a party to the matter, DPE director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi says about R400 million was originally budgeted for salaries, but due to delays in making funding available, the amount ballooned to R1.2 billion.

Tlhakudi points out that a settlement agreement was signed by various other trade unions, as well as by a large number of members of SACCA and NUMSA, in their individual capacities.

"Workers at SAA are owed at least 8-months salary but SAA has made a final settlement proposal, where they will only be paid 3-months salary, and they must waive the rest. In order to receive this money, they must relinquish their claims to the remaining 5-months salary which is owed to them. NUMSA and SACCA members rightly refused to waive their rights," state NUMSA and SACCA.

SAA went into business rescue in December 2019 and the rescue practitioners stopped paying SAA salaries in May when they effectively "mothballed" the airline, claiming there was no money left to keep it going. The unexpected arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating to the airline industry, including for SAA.

Almost all SAA employees, therefore, were not working and not getting paid, apart from Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS) payments, as part of government's Covid-19 relief. Some employees decided to take voluntary severance packages, while the contracts of others lapsed and were not renewed.

In October 2020, R10.5 billion was allocated in Treasury's medium-term budget to implement SAA's rescue plan. Of this, R3.5 billion became available at the start of November 2020 and R1.5 billion at the end of that month.

In his answering affidavit, SAA joint-rescue practitioner Dongwana states that "Because SAA is not functionally operating, none of the individual applicants has actually performed work over this period. Any indebtedness has been incurred not from actual work, but the tender to do so."

"I reiterate that the shareholder, as the sole funder of SAA's business rescue, is entitled to attach conditions to the R1.5 billion funding provided to SAA, as it has done. There is no other funding available," he concludes.

So far, 3 599 of the 4 597 SAA employees have either individually or through their own trade unions signed the settlement agreement, which includes to be paid three months' salaries for arrears backpay.

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