I have written to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)’s Essential Services Committee, asking for certain aviation industry services to be declared “essential”. Employees engaged in essential services are prohibited from exercising their constitutional right to strike.
Section 213 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, defines an “essential service” as one which, if interrupted, would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population.
The DA’s call follows reckless statements at the weekend by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), whose members have embarked on strike action against South African Airways (SAA).
The trade union’s spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, warned passengers not to fly on SAA, threatening them that their safety could not be guaranteed and that they were “putting their lives at risk”. She commented that “learners in the technical environment and other staff are being used to fly aircraft without having the requisite experience”.
This bullying brinkmanship is typical of NUMSA. The union is a destructive, intransigent menace to society and the economy. However, given NUMSA’shistory of violence and intimidation during industrial action, its threats should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
Both NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) have indicated that they plan to bring the whole aviation sector to its knees by initiating a secondary strike that would involve the Civil Aviation Authority, the Airports Company South Africa, Mango Airlines, Safair, SA Express and Comair.
The regulation and control of air traffic in South Africa has already been declared an essential service (in 1997). It could be argued that since airports in South Africa have been designated as national key points under the National Key Points Act of 1980 (which means that any damage to, or disruption and immobilization of these facilities may harm the country) it would be in the public interest to ban all strike action at airports and indeed any national key points.
At the very least, pilots and all technical ground- and air staff who are in any way responsible for passengers’ health and safety should be regarded as performing an essential service. Given the strict security provisions at airports, and the fact that many of the functions rendered by aviation logistics companies require specialised employees, it is difficult to find replacement labour in the event of a strike. This underscores the case for designating these services as essential in the aviation sector.
NUMSA has held SAA and the country’s air travellers to ransom for too long. It is time for decisive action against this economic wrecking ball. A designation of certain aviation industry services as essential would be a good first step in the right direction.