SAA subsidiary’s staff to be paid after 16 months, but for many it’s too late
‘We lost everything,’ say Air Chefs staff crippled by debt, even as salary repayment deal is struck
Blacklisted, no money for food and having to give up homes after falling behind on rent and bond payments.
This is the bleak reality for many employees of SAA subsidiary Air Chefs — which provides in-flight catering services to airlines — who have gone without normal salaries for more than 16 months.
In a letter sent to staff by management on August 18, the company said it had been engaging with labour on back pay for employees who “have struggled and have been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Air Chefs said in the letter that it had allocated R107m for the salary incentives.
“The company is thrilled to finally be in a position to provide this relief to its valuable and committed employees. The company appreciates all your contributions to the company.
“Due to the backlog in payroll administration, as a result of the salary incentive for April 1 2020 to July 30 2021, the company will process the payment of August 1 to 15 2021 days worked early in September 2021.
“This will enable management to consolidate the worked days. The date will be communicated in due course,” the letter read.
National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim said that, together with other unions, they met with the board and management at Air Chefs on Monday afternoon and came to an agreement.
It was agreed that the company pay 75% of the outstanding salaries of 16 months, Jim said.
“Payment will be made within 48 hours or by Thursday this week.
“The balance of 25% will be paid within six months. Should the funds be made available soon, they will pay any time once funding is in Air Chefs’ account.
“ Numsa thanks our officials for their tireless work in negotiating with the employer. Workers at Air Chefs have suffered a lot. This was their money and there was no justification for not paying,” Jim said.
I had a life cover at FNB that I have been paying for more than 15 years. I lost that policy. Funeral cover, everything is gone. I was paying close to R500 for 15 years and I lost all of that.Patrick Nyathi, who has worked for Air Chefs for the past 19 years
But for some workers, the payment is a “little too late”.
Patrick Nyathi, who has worked for the company for the past 19 years, said he had since been crippled by debt.
Nyathi is more than R34,000 behind on his rent and R30,000 behind on school fees for his two children.
“I went to their schools two months ago to make arrangements and to explain to them that I was not working. The school for my son said I can make a payment of R5,700 once I get money, but my daughter’s school declined because that amount is high.”
Nyathi said he also struggles to put food on the table and his life cover and other policies lapsed due to nonpayment.
“I had a life cover at FNB that I have been paying for more than 15 years. I lost that policy. Funeral cover, everything is gone.
“I was paying close to R500 for 15 years and I lost all of that. It pains me a lot. What if something happens to me?
“All the money that we are going to get now is just going to debt.”
A second worker, who asked not to be named, said he had to move his children to a relative after he did not have enough money to put food on the table.
He said his bank also wanted to repossess his home and he was doing gardening work to make ends meet.
The man, who had worked for the company for the past 16 years, said he owed about R28,000 in school fees for his daughter.
“She did not get her school reports because I owe money and she will be going to grade 8 next year.
“I couldn’t apply for her online for space for next year because of the reports.”
SAA failed to respond to questions sent to them on Monday.
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