Democratic Alliance (Cape Town)

21 January 2013

South Africa: SAACrisis: Why Hasn?t the Minister Called the CCMA?

press release

Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, has watched from the side-lines as South African Airways (SAA) executives botch negotiations with labour unions on the eve of the African Cup of Nations (Afcon). The DA calls on the Minister to urgently employ the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration (CCMA) to conduct a ballot of SAA employees to determine the representative union.

On Friday, employees at SAA embarked on an indefinite strike after the National Transport Movement (NTM) union were unable to reach an agreement with the state carrier. The strike, rather opportunistically, coincides with the start of Afcon, underlining the need for a speedy resolution.

The uncertainty at SAA has reached fever pitch as acting board members and acting executives second-guess each other's every move. Though not surprising, this crisis was entirely preventable.

At the core of the dispute is the question around representativeness, with NTM believing that its alleged membership base of 1 377 SAA employees justifies recognition under labour law.

Earlier in the week, acting SAA CEO Vuyisile Kona had met with the union to attempt to resolve the crisis and suspend the strike.

Shortly after the meeting, reports in the media surfaced indicating that SAA board member and acting Chair of its remuneration committee, Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, had declared any resolutions or promises agreed upon between NTM and the acting CEO null and void.

There can be little doubt that the embarrassing and overt disunity between the board and the acting CEO facilitated the resultant strikes later in the week.

As happened at Marikana, a COSATU-affiliated union has lost ground to a new labour movement more in tune with the needs of the workers. The Minister's silence on the SAA union disputes is congruent with the ANC government's general attitude towards non-COSATU affiliated unions attempting to gain organisational rights.

The Minister should know that in the event of unresolved disputes on whether or not the registered trade union is a representative trade union, the CCMA is the appropriate port of call as delineated in the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

Section 20(9) states that: In order to determine the membership or support of the registered trade union, the commissioner may -

(a) make any necessary inquiries;

(b) where appropriate, conduct a ballot of the relevant employees; and

(c) take into account any other relevant information.

It is therefore hard to understand why SAA did not heed the recommendations made by the CCMA to recognise NTM in November of last year. What is needed now to resolve this dispute is a properly conducted ballot of the relevant employees at SAA by the CCMA.

The executives at SAA would have known this, of course, had they been merit-based appointments as opposed to politically motivated deployments.

Another patently preventable disaster has befallen SAA as a direct consequence of poor management, absent leadership and a drastic shortage of industry-specific skills and experience in the boardroom.

In order to salvage what credibility he has left, the DA is calling on Minister Gigaba to engage with the CCMA to initiate a ballot under section 20(9) of the LRA to bring about a speedy and amicable resolution to the crisis.

Natasha Michael, Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises

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