Monday, June 1, 2020

Air Botswana managers face contempt of court charges

Air Botswana (AB) management may be in contempt of court for failing to pay staff salary increment back-pays running into millions of Pula as ordered by the High Court.

The pays date back to 2015 and affect 160 current staff and 68 former employees who took voluntary exit packages.

Air Botswana Employees Union (ABEU) took their employer to court for dithering over the implementation of a legally binding agreement signed by the union and management to close gaps in the airline’s salary structure.

Judge Michael Leburu ordered the loss making state-owned enterprise to back-pay its employees within 30 days from the 19 0ctober 2018 judgment.

At the time of going to press the airline had not honoured the order and was out of time.

The Judge also ordered Both AB and ABEU to carry out an audit to determine whether indeed back-pays have been effected to all concerned staff members.

To this end, the union is once again annoyed by the humming and hawing of management over its members’ money despite a legally binding agreement in place which has been further reinforced by a High Court order that they be paid within 30 days from the judgment date

ABEU chairperson, Pius Tshepe, told the Sunday Standard on Friday that the stalemate has left the union with no option but but to go back to court. He said management said they still had to carry out an audit.

Efforts to obtain a response from AB last week hit a snag as management did not respond to the Sunday Standard enquiry in spite of having promised to do so.

ABEU chairperson, on behalf of the union, deposed an affidavit before court stating that for many years AB employees complained against the low wages in comparison to other parastatals in Botswana.

Following years of engagement between management and the union, ABEU engaged Tsa Badiri Consultancy firm to do a review of the salaries and benefits paid to employees.

The consultancy firm came up with a report titled “Air Botswana – Competitiveness Analysis and Remuneration Review” which was approved by AB Board of Directors in 2014.

Following further consultations a written agreement was executed on the 14 January 2016 by the two parties (AB management and ABEU) on the implementation of the Tsa Badiri report signed by Tshepe on behalf of the union and chairman Wilhemia Makwinja on behalf of Air Botswana Board of Directors.

Air Botswana in its answering affidavit said the reason for non-payment was that the airline had not yet completed staff appraisals but the union begged to differ saying the appraisals were not a condition precedent for the implementation of the salary gap for the end of February 2016 adding that in any event the appraisals were completed in December 2015.

The High Court also ordered both management and the union to conduct an audit to determine whether back pays in terms of their agreement had been effected to all concerned staff members.

The unionist said the last restructuring at the airline saw 68 employees taking voluntary exit packages He said the retrenched employees have not yet received their back pays.

The general manager, Agnes Khunwana, recently told this publication that AB priority areas are human capital, re-fleeting, optimum utilization and efficiency of all airline equipment, optimum cash flow management, financial viability, cost management and cost efficiency.

The cash strapped airline, which has relied heavily on government for cash injections for many years, recently acquired two new ATR 600 aircraft and is also in the process of acquiring an Embraer E170 jet from Canada.

In 2014 AB received P330 million cash injection from government and to show for it the airline managed to reduce its huge loss of P165million in 2015 to P12million in 2017.

“The shareholder expects profitability, quality of service and safety, operational efficiency to improve the image of the Airline as a going concern business that will attract outside investment”, Khunwana told this publication.

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