SAA Pilots head to court to interdict lock-out

The Air Line Pilots’ Association of South Africa (ALPA-SA)has launched an urgent process to interdict South African Airways’ (SAA’s) business rescue practitioners from continuing with a lock-out of its members.

ALPA-SA is the parent body of the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa), which represents 367 or 96% of the pilots employed by SAA.


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At the heart of the impasse between the airline and ALPA-SA is the three-decade long Regulatory Agreement (RA) between Saapa members and the airline, which the business rescue practitioners want terminated. The rescue practitioners issued a 48-hour lock-out notice to Saapa last week Wednesday, preventing the association’s members from accessing the company’s premises until they agree to new employment terms and conditions.

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For the duration of the lock-out, Saapa members will also not be entitled to any remuneration or benefits from the airline.

Rescue practitioners Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson have instituted separate court proceedings to have the RA set aside, citing among others the onerous burden that the agreement puts on the airline’s precarious finances.

Following several failed internal attempts to resolve the impasse, the dispute was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in October. The parties were however unable to reach an agreement; proceedings at the CCMA failed to resolve the dispute and a period of more than 30 days has lapsed since the dispute was referred by SAA to the CCMA.

Saapa says it has agreed to terminate the RA and has placed alternative employment terms and conditions on the table. ALPA-SA and Saapa want the Labour Court to declare the lock-out unlawful and unprotected.

In court papers filed on Monday, Saapa’s Chief Negotiator Glen Smith says the lock-out is in contravention of various sections of the Labour Relations Act, in that it exempts certain members of Saapa from the lockout and that given the fact that SAA has ceased to operate there is no “workplace” as defined by the LRA.

SAA has been under business rescue for a year and has ceased all commercial operations except for repatriation and cargo flights earlier this year. Additionally, airline aircraft leases have been terminated and the airline is under care and maintenance.

Given SAA’s circumstances, there is no “place or places where [the members of Saapa] work” – no physical place of work constituted by any physical premises of SAA or any cockpits of any SAA airplanes – and thus no “workplace” as envisaged in terms of the definition of “lock-out” in Section 213 of the LRA,” Smith says.

Employees who have been exempted from the lockout include members of Saapa, making the lockout invalid.

“It is not open to the employer to choose which of the employees are to be locked out and which of the employees are not to be locked out,” Smith says.

The rescue practitioners want Saapa members to accept new terms and conditions, which include new salary scales.

The pilots, like other SAA employees, have not been paid since March – despite signing voluntary severance packages and the allocation of R1.5 billion for the payment of salaries from the Department of Public Enterprises.

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