Unions' plans to halt feared job losses at SAA dismissed by Labour Court

Numsa and Sacca had wanted the labour court to declare purported retrenchments at SAA null and void.
Numsa and Sacca had wanted the labour court to declare purported retrenchments at SAA null and void.
Image: SAA

The Labour Court in Johannesburg on Friday dismissed an application by two trade unions at South African Airways (SAA) which sought to compel the employer to consult employees over feared job losses arising from proposed route closures.

Judge Graham Moshoana held that SAA had not contemplated dismissals, and the duty to consult within the contemplation of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act did not arise.

"The procedure in section 189A (13) is available to consulting parties and since the duty to consult has not arisen, the powers of this court to compel a fair procedure and or interdiction and restraining SAA are severely circumscribed, " Moshoana said.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) asked the court this week to declare that the purported retrenchment of employees was null and void.

A week ago, SAA's business rescue practitioners announced that as of February 29, domestic destinations including Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth – but excluding Cape Town - would cease to be operated by SAA.

The unions went to court because they believe the route cancellation announcement would inevitably result in job losses, and signaled that the practitioners were intending to bypass the retrenchment processes set out in section 189 of the Labour Relations Act.

The section permits employers to dismiss employees for operational requirements. However, it requires that consultation must take place when the employer contemplates retrenchments. The consultations must try to reach consensus on a number of matters, including the possibility of avoiding the dismissals, measures to minimise the dismissals and appropriate measures to mitigate the effects of retrenchments.

Andrew Redding SC, counsel for the airline and the two business rescue practitioners, on Thursday argued that section 133 of the Companies Act states that, during business rescue proceedings, no legal proceedings against the company may be commenced in any forum.

Redding said that now that the business proceedings were in progress, the unions could not institute any legal proceedings against the practitioners - unless they obtained permission from the high court.

He said the application by the unions was premature because there were no contemplated retrenchments to speak of.

The unions' legal counsel informed Moshoana that they intend to apply for leave to appeal Friday's judgment.

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