Labour Court dismisses NUMSA application against kulula.com owner, as BA bookings reopen

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Comair
  • The Labour Court has dismissed an application by NUMSA against Comair and union Solidarity.
  • It relates to a retrenchment process and a collective agreement at the airline, which NUMSA disagrees with.
  • Comair also announced on Monday that bookings for British Airways' domestic flights in South Africa have reopened


An application by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa against Comair, Solidarity and other parties has been dismissed by the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Monday after judgment was reserved on Thursday.

NUMSA wanted the Labour Court to declare that Comair and its business rescue practitioners are acting in a procedurally unfair manner regarding a section 189 retrenchment process which started on 27 October this year. 

JSE-listed Comair is currently in business rescue. It operates low-cost airline kulula.com, as well as British Airways domestically.

Glenn Orsmond, who represents the Comair Rescue Consortium, which won the bid in the business rescue process of the airline, says the consortium welcomes the labour court decision."We always believed we had a strong case and we are happy that the court ruled the collective agreement is valid and binding on all employees. So, the rescue plan is still on and kulula.com is set to start flying on 1 December and BA on 9 December," he commented.

According to NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, the union has noted the decision by the court and is studying the judgment.

In the view of NUMSA, the rescue plan makes provision for the retrenchment of about 400 employees, while Solidarity claims 145 employees will be retrenched. NUMSA wanted the section 189 process to be withdrawn and a fresh notice issued.

The trade union also wanted the Labour Court to declare that its members are not bound by the terms of a collective agreement reached in late September this year between Comair, the rescue practitioners, Solidarity and a pilots' association.

It also did not want the collective agreement from September to be relied on. According to a supporting affidavit to the NUMSA application, the collective agreement contains provisions which will lead to employees waiving their rights to remuneration for the period of 5 May to 1 December this year. Comair went into business rescue at the beginning of May. The collective agreement also provides for a reduction in workforce and a section 189 constative process to be shorter than the legally required 60 days.

Solidarity, on the other hand, believes if NUMSA insists that the collective agreement which exists between the airline and Solidarity must be abolished, it might mean that Comair would lose its business rescue funding, preventing the company from resuming flights again as from December 1. Solidarity sees the collective agreement as part and parcel of conditions set by the Comair Rescue Consortium, which won the bid in the rescue process.

Solidarity also welcomed the Labour Court ruling upholding the collective agreement between Comair and Solidarity. In the view of Solidarity, the ruling gives employees, employers, as well as the airline's investors a sense of greater security and confidence.

"It was of the utmost importance that this agreement remained in place to ensure the survival of the airline and to make it possible for it to start flying again on 1 December 2020. It is thanks to this agreement that the jobs of hundreds of employees are protected, and the airline's long-term sustainability is protected," says Derek Mans, Solidarity's aviation and defence organiser.

"In a post-Covid-19 world, parties in labour relations will have to increasingly negotiate on the basis of joint interests and joint gain instead of the traditional approach of opposing interests."

Bookings reopen

Meanwhile, bookings for British Airways' domestic flights in South Africa have reopened, Comair announced in a separate statement on Monday.

From 9 December, the airline plans to begin serving all the domestic British Airways routes it previously operated. Regional services will be reintroduced as it ramps up to full operations over the next few months.

"With reservations for the British Airways' flights open we're now able to offer bookings on a considerably expanded schedule. As well as giving customers the choice of booking on either of our airline brands and a greater range of competitive fares, they now also have the option of booking in business class," says Orsmond.

According to Orsmond, Comair will initially operate a fleet of fifteen aircraft across both airline brands gradually increasing as the remainder of the fleet returns to service over the next few months. 

Comair introduced the British Airways’ brand to domestic and regional routes in South and Southern Africa in 1996 when it signed a franchise agreement with the UK's largest carrier.

"British Airways' ongoing support is a huge vote of confidence in the future of Comair," says Orsmond. 

The reintroduction of British Airways domestic flights will also see the SLOW lounges reopen. Initially the domestic lounges at King Shaka International, Cape Town International and OR Tambo International will open. The other lounges will reopen as the flight schedule expands.

Comair also operates low-cost airline kulula.com, for which bookings have already opened earlier. Discovery Vitality has also resumed its agreement with kulula.com, as has FNB’s eBucks rewards programme arrangement with Comair.


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