Following the picketing outside the Department of Labor and Employment by workers of BidAir, the commissioner of South Africa’s Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), Teboho Maruping, has committed to release funds to pay out their salaries by the evening of July 30, Thursday.
These funds will be released as a part of Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS), to which the BidAir had applied. TERS is financed from the funds accumulated in the UIF through contributions by workers and employers.
TERS is meant to provide relief to workers whose employees are unable to pay salaries due to lack of business during the lockdown. The scheme contributes a maximum of R6,730 towards each employee’s salary.
BidAir, which provides ground handling and cleaning services to 25 international and domestic airlines in South Africa, has lost business since the grounding of flights due to the COVID-19 related lockdown which was imposed in March. The company had therefore applied for TERS, but the application was not processed by the government.
As a result, the workers were not paid any wages for the months of May, June and July. After they picketed outside the labor department yesterday, the commissioner of UIF held a meeting with their representatives – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the Transport and the Omnibus Workers Union (TOWU).
The management of the company was also represented in the meeting by its HR manager and the general manager of employee relations.
At this meeting, the commissioner made the commitment to release the TERS funds to the company within 48 hours, to enable the payment of salaries for the month of May. “The payment for June will be processed after BidAir sends a proof that it has paid TERS to employees for the month of May. Applications for July TERS payments have not yet opened,” NUMSA and TOWU said in a joint statement.
“The delay in the TERS payment”, they complained, “served only to increase anxiety and stress amongst workers who were already in distress because of possible job losses.” Due to its dependency on the aviation sector which has been adversely affected in South Africa and globally, BidAir maintains that it has suffered severe revenue losses and is hence unable to continue employing the roughly 4,300 workers.
On these grounds, BidAir has served Section 189 notices contemplating the retrenchment of 3,395 workers across different operations, including BidAir Cargo, BidAir Ramp and BidVest Premier Lounges. On August 3, the unions are scheduled to meet the management to explore alternatives to retrenchments, or otherwise bargain for appropriate severance packages.
In the meantime, the unions have stated, “We hope that this is the last time workers at BidAir will have to suffer unnecessarily because of delays. We are also urging the UIF to improve its systems because BidAir is not the only company where there have been delays in TERS payments. Furthermore, workers should not be forced to resort to protest action, particularly during the covid19 pandemic, just to get the attention of the department.”