LSG Sky Chef employees accuse company of being dishonest about operations during lockdown

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Employees of airline catering company LSG Sky Chefs are accusing the company of continuing to operate despite receiving letters that the company will not be operational throughout the national lockdown.

In March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Level-5 lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Following the announcement, international and domestic flights were banned.

LSG, which caters for international and domestic flights, sent out letters to employees informing them that the company will be shutting down completely for three months, “in the hope that the travel ban will be lifted and that international and domestic travelling will improve in the following months” a letter from LSG outlined.

However, employees claim that the company remained operational throughout the three months.

“Only to find out that during this period of three months when the company was supposedly shut down the company had continued to operate and had called some of the permanent employees to come and assist with whatever production that needed to be made. So, currently, the aviation industry is still closed. The only flights that are operating are the cargo flights, which the company did not disclose that they are still catering for those cargo flights,” argues one of the employees.

Director of Human Resources in South Africa and Tanzania Lynnette Luwes confirmed that the company was catering for cargo flights.

“We have not been operational for any domestic or international flights during the government-imposed lockdown period. But in a few exceptional circumstances, we provided some catering services, e.g. for cargo flights.”

Below are the pictures of the company’s vans taken during the lockdown:

UIF  temporary employer/employee relief scheme

The company also confirmed that it applied for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) employee relief scheme even though they were operational in “exceptional circumstances.”  “After consultation with the relevant internal and external stakeholders, the company applied for the TERS benefit for all permanent members employed at the company during the lockdown period,” says Luwes.

The employees say they received their salaries throughout, except for June. The organiser of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), Robert Seroka says that the union has been engaging with the company about the circumstances of the employees.

He says that the reason why employees have not received their June salaries is because of the delays in payment from the UIF.

The UIF has been overwhelmed with applications since more and more people are losing their jobs. Last week UIF Commissioner Teboho Maruping announced that they have so far paid more than R27 billion out of the R40 billion allocated.

Sunday double rate cut off 

The employees also allege that their Sunday double rate payments were cut off.

“They then went on to take away our Sunday payment. Our Sunday payment was double. If you come in on a Sunday then your hourly rate was double. We only received that money for a couple of months and then the same excuse was given that the company does not have enough funds to support this,” says one of the employees.

The company refutes the allegation. “The company pays Sunday shift in accordance with the Main Agreement of the Bargaining Council for Restaurants, Catering and Allied Trades,” says Luwes.

Employees also say that they only received the 7% increment that the company agreed on once. However, the company says it applied for an exemption for the increase.

“The company applied for an exemption of the annual 7% increase in 2019 which was granted by the Bargaining Council for Restaurants, Catering and Allied Trades. The union appealed against the exemption which was granted and on appeal, the Bargaining Council upheld the decision made by the Financial Committee.”

Domestic flights resumed

Last week, Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula announced that more domestic flights will be operating while international flights remain banned. The OR Tambo, King Shaka, Cape Town, Lanseria International Airport, Bram Fischer, Port Elizabeth, Upington, the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airports, Richards Bay, and Pietermaritzburg airports are operating.

Despite this, the company sent out letters indicating that it will not be operational for a further three months until September.

“So far, we have not seen an increase in business volume and the domestic airlines have not made any statement in regards to the re-introduction of catering on their flights. Currently, the government imposed an international travel ban and there is no indication in which lockdown level the international travel ban would be lifted. Based on this travel ban, and the feedback we have received from our international airline customers, a return of notable international travel and air traffic seems unlikely till about September 2020. Should this change, we would, of course, adjust our working arrangements accordingly,” says Luwes.

The employees further received SMSes from the company regarding the lay-offs from June to September: