Numsa condemns Comair for failing to pay workers’ salaries

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The union says the airline’s CEO, Wrenelle Stander, and the business rescue practitioners should go.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has condemned the management of Comair for failing to pay workers their salaries.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said in a statement on Wednesday that the airline’s employees were only paid their basic salary at the end of March “and in the month of April, Comair used employees annual leave to pay their salaries”.

“As we speak, workers have not received any salary for the month of May and there is no explanation as to when payment will be made. The CEO Wrenelle Stander claims that they applied for relief from the Unemployment Insurance Funds (UIF) Covid-19 Temporary Employee Relief Scheme but to date, we have no idea whether it has been approved or not, and our members are frustrated because there is no clarity on when this will be paid – if at all.

“Annual leave has been unilaterally taken from employees in order to cover for salaries in April. We believe this was done to ensure that workers exhaust all their leave so that when retrenchments do come, the company does not have to pay out their leave.

“This is made worse by the fact that Comair has unilaterally suspended conditions of employment for its staff, and it is our view that it is hiding behind the BRPs and the Covid-19 pandemic as justification for this unlawful action.

“Conditions of employment can only be changed when there is an agreement from all parties through a meaningful consultation process. Benefits were gained through the bargaining process, but those have now been unilaterally revoked. Going forward, Comair employees that render a service will be paid a negotiated rate, without the benefits which they were previously entitled to in terms of their employment contacts, and this was not discussed with anyone, including the unions.

“The Companies Act is very clear that BRPs can only change conditions of employment by agreement. 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. We are also seeing a trend both at SAA and now at Comair where BRPs are seemingly a law unto themselves, who do as they please without accounting to anyone, especially labour. We condemn this practice in the strongest terms.”

She said the union was of the view that the airline’s CEO “lacked vision and a clear strategy to take the company forward” during a meeting last week.

“Following our engagement, we are not left feeling confident in her ability to guide the company out of the difficult situation it is facing.”

Hlubi-Majola said the CEO “is not fit for the position” and at the meeting had “admitted to making poor decisions which worsened the company’s finances”.

She said Numsa members are calling for the CEO and the BRPs to go.

“Her departure would be in the best interest of the airline and all its employees because she has done more harm than good since she took over.”

(Compiled by Makhosandile Zulu)

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