A dispute over the recognition of a union at South African Airways (SAA) indicates that trouble may already be brewing at the airline between its board and acting chief executive Vuyisile Kona.
Co-operation between the management and the board of the loss-making airline is crucial as they are crafting a strategy to present to the Treasury to secure more funding.
The Treasury has given SAA a R5bn guarantee‚ despite the existing tensions that last year saw the resignation of most of its board and its chief executive.
A letter sent to the National Transport Movement on Monday (14 January) by SAA board member and acting chairman of the remuneration committee‚ Lindi Nkosi-Thomas‚ said any promises made to the new union by Kona were "null and void".
Last Friday (11 January)‚ Kona negotiated a last-minute suspension of the union's strike in support of its attempt to gain recognition at the airline‚ the union's deputy secretary-general‚ Liver Mngomezulu‚ said on Tuesday (15 January).
The union expected recognition as it had followed the letter of the law and had the backing of the Commission for Conciliation‚ Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)‚ he said.
In November‚ CCMA commissioner Samson Phomodi recommended to SAA that the National Transport Movement be recognised‚ despite it not meeting the 30% of workforce threshold needed to join the bargaining council.
Phomodi said the union should be "afforded the same basic right afforded to Solidarity" - which also did not meet the threshold. These rights included the deduction of union dues from members' salaries and the recognition of its shop stewards.
SAA said that Phomodi reported that the National Transport Movement had 1‚111 members at SAA and required 1‚220 to reach 30% of the 4‚065 employees who were part of the bargaining council.
Mngomezulu said SAA had been "economic with the truth" about the CCMA process. "SAA has a leadership problem‚" he said.
"The acting group CEO of SAA (Mr Kona) phoned us (on Tuesday).
"We told him about the letter saying his promises were null and void. He is not even aware of the letter‚ which shows that there is a serious leadership problem at SAA."
Nkosi-Thomas's letter said that‚ because the National Transport Movement was not recognised‚ its meeting with Kona and the commitments he made were null and void.
"Further‚ it is critical to note that the acting CEO acted outside of his delegation of authority. This meeting has compromised the relationships between the company and the recognised trade unions‚" she wrote.
SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said: "Any correspondence between SAA and its stakeholders is treated by the airline as confidential and for that reason we will not be in a position to provide any insight as to what may have been intended by any correspondence."
Mngomezulu said that the National Transport Movement met Kona again on Tuesday (15 January)‚ but failed to reach any agreement. The union was scheduled to meet with its members to decide whether to go ahead with the strike.
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