Air Strike

Comair ground staff not allowed to strike until further notice

By Yanga Sibembe 18 April 2019

19 February 2009. South Africa. Western Cape. Cape Town. Three flights from Kulula.com had to be grounded at the Cape Town International Airport after an anonymous bomb threat. The planes were moved away from buildings and other planes for safety reasons. No bombs were found on any of the planes.

Comair approached the labour court in an attempt to prevent employees that are members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa going on strike over the Easter weekend. That attempt was temporarily successful as the judgment was withheld, meaning the strike will be put on hold until the court rules.

Passengers on British Airways and Kulula flights can breathe a sigh of relief for now. The planned strike by Comair ground staff has been put on hold until the labour court rules on an urgent indict applied for by the airline company on Thursday.

This, in a desperate attempt to ensure operations continue running seamlessly over the upcoming Easter weekend, especially considering National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members make up just over 700 of Comair’s ground staff of 2,200.

The dispute is in connection with what Numsa has labelled a “salary discrepancy”, with the union alleging that some employees are paid less than their counterparts for doing the same exact job.

The conflict came to a head after months of fruitless negotiations between the two parties on this matter, with Numsa tabling a list of demands to Comair, to which the airline operator responded with a counter-offer that Numsa deemed “unacceptable” and rejected.

Advocate Ashley Cook, a legal representative of Comair, submitted to the court that it was calling for an interdict on three points.

He told the court that Numsa “has not taken a secret ballot of members to find out how many members are willing to participate in a strike, which is a prerequisite according to the Labour Relations Amendment Act”.

Cook also submitted to the court that “the issue that they want to strike for should go to the Court of Arbitration as it is an issue of discrimination”.

Cook further submitted to the court that Numsa couldn’t strike because there was already a wage agreement in place, which came into effect on 23 January 2019. This agreement consisted of a 7,1% increase, as well as a signing on fee.

Advocate Irene De Vos, from Numsa’s legal team, was at pains to separate the reason for this planned strike action from the above-mentioned wage agreement.

The true nature of this dispute is the salary discrepancies,” she said. She pointed out that the wage agreement did not nullify the issue at hand, which is that some employees at Comair are paid more than others, for doing the same exact job.

Furthermore, De Vos said that even though Numsa was initially under the impression that the salary discrepancies were based on discrimination, they had since received evidence from Comair that the “discrepancy was not based on race or ethnicity”. Merely said that there were  “anomalies” in how some workers were paid but didn’t provide details. Following this, they had subsequently informed their members of this new information.

Thus De Vos submitted that as a result there are no grounds to take this case to the court of arbitration.

Judge J. Prinsloo has withheld judgment. Meaning the interdict that Comair was seeking is currently in effect. The judge said that she would give her ruling as soon as possible. DM

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