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South African Airways Blocked From Laying Off Entire Workforce in Court Victory for Unions

South African Airways Blocked From Laying Off Entire Workforce in Court Victory for Unions

Is South African Airways Actually the Best Airline in the World?

The business practitioners behind the administration of South African Airways have been blocked from laying off the embattled carrier’s entire 4,700 strong workforce in a major victory for the airline’s unions. Leslie Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana had warned Friday would be a “drop dead” day in which the heavily indebted State-owned airline stop operating and in its place a new national airline created.

But on Thursday a judge ruled in favour of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) who together represent around 60 per cent of the airline’s employees. The Labour Court ruled that the business practitioners only had the power to retrench workers as part of a business rescue plan.

“In the absence of a business rescue plan, the issuing of notices commencing a consultation process over proposed retrenchments is procedurally unfair,” Judge Andre van Niekerk ruled.

To complicate matters still further, the airline said on Friday that it would continue to operate repatriation and cargo-only flights throughout the month of May. South African Airways was already on the brink of collapse before the COVID-19 pandemic but a nationwide lockdown and continuing ban on normal passenger flights had put the airline in a perilous situation.

At the end of April, the South African government said it would create a new financially viable national carrier from the remains of SAA which would be restructured. The business practitioners, however, had instead pursued a complete wind-down of the airline with the loss of all employees.

The current situation situations pits the South African government and the airline’s workers against the business practitioners who want to liquidate the carrier. In response to the judgement, the business practitioners said they would examine the details before deciding on their next steps.

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