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'I loved my job, Comair was like a family': employee

Two years of struggle by cash-strapped workers were all in vain as airline is now set for liquidation

10 June 2022 - 15:01
Jamain Doravaloo from Durban worked at Comair for the past 12 years.
Jamain Doravaloo from Durban worked at Comair for the past 12 years.
Image: Supplied

“It’s a lot, it's heartbreaking, it’s overwhelming and sad. Comair was like my home, but I also believe God has bigger plans for me.”

So says Jamain Doravaloo, 35, from Phoenix in Durban, who worked at Comair for the past 12 years as a customer service supervisor and brand ambassador.

 

One of three siblings, Doravaloo has updated his CV and is hopeful he will secure a new job in the aviation sector. He said he will strive to remain positive and not dwell too much on the bad side.

“I don’t want to go into depression and anxiety and give up hope. I still have lots of years ahead of me, I just need to be positive and think about my future,” he said.

He said Comair was one of the best companies he had worked for, given the training and the skills he had acquired while at the company.

“The culture, the benefits, I have never been in a company that values their staff like Comair. For me, it was like a family, because we spent most of our time at work. We worked hectic shifts and the only people we knew outside our home were the people at Comair.”

With the announcement that business rescue practitioners are filing to put Comair into liquidation, he said the latest developments and grounding of aircraft on June 1 had been overwhelming.

“It hasn’t sunk in, though I think when the day comes I have to deal with it.”

Labour attorney Michael Bagraim told TimesLIVE that Comair employees’ pension funds were protected from the company’s liquidation process.

“The pension fund is a separate company. Pension funds have their own rules, but I have not come across any such fund that doesn’t pay immediately on dismissal or retrenchment of employees.

“If there is any reluctance to do so the Pension Funds Adjudicator would step in very quickly.”

Comair was founded in 1943, it is a viable business which has more than 40% share of the aviation market
Numsa

Comair, which went into business rescue when the Covid-19 pandemic hit air travel, had a consortium which previously agreed to invest R500m in return for most of the company, while a further R1.4bn, comprising of R400m in new borrowings and R800m in deferred debt, was to be secured from banks.​ This could not be raised.

Doravaloo said in the past two years, life wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning of lockdown early in 2020, as they were not paid for eight months and relied on the Covid-19 temporary employer-employee relief scheme (Ters). The payment didn’t even cover half his salary.

“I really felt it those months, it was really tough, but when we got back in December 2020 we went back with a salary cut which was still OK. It was liveable and we could manage, but after that there were lots of factors that kept getting worse and worse and deeper and deeper into trouble and now here we are,” he said.

When Doravaloo joined Comair, his initial plan was to stay in the company for at least five years, acquire the experience and move on, but working in the aviation sector and for a company like Comair changed his plans.

“It gets into your blood and you can’t leave, so I would probably have been there till I retired, because that’s how much I loved my job and working for the company.”

Doravaloo is grateful that he is single and does not have any children.

He hopes the skills he acquired with the airline will help him secure another job. In the meantime, he and his family will try to cut back on expenditure.

“My parents relied heavily on me. So it is my mom and my dad, my brother and sister. My dad does work, but he still relies on me. We will need to change the way we live and adapt to the circumstances until life gets better.”

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which represents employees at the airline, said workers were shocked and angry.

“The most painful thing is that more than 1,200 workers will pay the highest price for their failure.

“They feel betrayed because they fought with all they had to keep the airline in the sky. For more than two years they were not paid their salaries in full, because they were told this would ensure the airline's survival. Comair was founded in 1943, it is a viable business which has more than 40% share of the aviation market,” Numsa said.

According to the union, the court will hear an application for Comair's provisional liquidation on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Wendy Knowler

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