Comair faces disruptions due to strike

Johannesburg – Comair’s airport services could be disrupted tomorrow as ground staff affiliated to Uasa look set to down tools after the union and the listed aviation company failed to agree on a wage increase.

Wage negotiations between Comair and Uasa – which claims to represent 60 percent of the workforce at Comair – deadlocked in January, Uasa said yesterday.

The union said some of the employees who would go on strike, included Comair customer service agents, ticket sales agents, ramp controllers, aircraft movement control ground controllers and special service agents located at various airports countrywide.

The industrial action is likely to inconvenience travellers. Comair’s route network includes flights to airports within South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.

Inconvenience

“The strike has the potential to cause massive inconvenience, delays in air travel and the destruction of shareholder value, hence Uasa remains committed to resolving the dispute, even at this late stage,” the union said.

Comair has a licence to operate British Airways in South Africa and owns low-cost carrier Kulula.com. The strike comes days after Comair informed shareholders that it was in discussions about an acquisition.

The company has not revealed any details about the planned transaction.

In a move to allay fears about the possible disruption of the strike, Comair said yesterday that it had a comprehensive contingency plan in place and intended to maintain its daily operations.

“We have every intention to minimise the impact on our customers. We encourage our customers to check-in online or at the self-service kiosks at the airports and to drop their bags at the bag drop counter.

“We do have a back-up team who will assist our customers during the potential disruption, which could potentially be caused as a result of the strike, and we will do our best to minimise the impact on our customers’ travel plans,” Comair chief executive Erik Venter said yesterday.

Mediation

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) last week issued a certificate to strike after Uasa declared a deadlock. The union is demanding a 30 percent increase over a three-year period, while Comair is offering a 22.5 percent increase over the same period.

The union’s 10 percent a year wage demand included a consumer price index (CPI) increase, “plus extra to allow for the extraordinary increase in cost of living, as well as interest rate hikes”.

But Comair has defended its pay policy. Venter said the company continuously benchmarked its remuneration costs “to ensure the manner in which we remunerate our employees reflects the dynamics of the market and the economic environment…

“The interest and well-being of our employees is extremely important to the business and we make substantial investments to ensure the overall well-being of our employees,” he said.

Uasa spokesman Jannem Goussard said yesterday that the union was hopeful the impasse would be resolved. “But I doubt if that will happen before the strike. But, as you can see, what they offer is not too far off from what we are demanding.”

Goussard said the workers were feeling the strain from the tough economic conditions.

“The employees are feeling the pinch from the rising electricity and food prices. Their only option is to go to their employer,” he said.

Comair share prices rose 3.27 percent yesterday to close at R3.16 on the JSE.

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