Workers of BidAir Services (PTY) Ltd picketed outside the Department of Employment and Labor in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria, on Tuesday, July 28, demanding the payment of pending salaries.
The approximately 4,300 workers have not received any pay for the months of May, June and July, Phakamile Hlubi Majola, spokesperson of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), told Peoples Dispatch.
The workers staged the protest outside the department as they blame the government for delays in processing their employer’s application for the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS). The scheme aims to provide relief to workers whose employers are not in a position to pay their wages due losses incurred during the lockdown.
According to its website, BidAir was providing “handling services, passenger handling, ramp handling, load control and operations, cleaning and toilet and water services, to more than 25 international and domestic airlines flying into South Africa.”
With flights grounded under the lockdown, the company has lost business and has applied for TERS to pay the salaries of its employees. No funds have been released yet.
“We have asked the department to explain the reasons for the delay, they keep claiming that the employer has not applied, or that some of the information in the application is incorrect. The Employer has shown us proof that they have made the application for TERS, and when we ask them to tell us what information in the application must be corrected, department officials are unable to explain,” NUMSA, which represents the majority of the employees, said in a statement.
TERS is funded from the money accumulated in the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), to which workers and employers have been making contributions. “TERS is not a charitable service, these are monies which are due to workers, for services rendered. They have contributed to the UIF through their own salaries and it is unacceptable and unfair that their families’ are forced to go hungry because of the department’s ineptitude,” NUMSA added.
Condemning the department for “forcing employees out into the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic”, the union clarified that it had not organized the protest and workers from different unions came together in solidarity. “However, we stand by them and their demand for their salaries to be paid immediately. A meeting with BidAir management as well as the Department is underway now and NUMSA is also represented. Other unions are also present at the meeting. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that this is resolved.”